Addiction is a disease – a disease of the brain. There are many other types of brain diseases – mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress, personality disorders, and more. Addiction and mental disorders are diseases that often go hand-in-hand.
When a person has a mental disorder and the disease of addiction, they have what’s called a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis is also referred to as co-morbidity. It’s estimated that at least 50 percent of addicts also have a mental disorder. For some mental disorders, the rate of addiction is even higher. In comparison, 10 percent of the entire population suffers from addiction.
Why are mental disorders so common among addicts? And how can addicts achieve long-term sobriety when dealing with the disease of addiction and the added challenge of a mental disorder?
Common Dual Diagnoses
Mental disorders and addiction are both diseases that affect the same parts, pathways, and chemicals of the brain. A person who has one type of brain disease is more likely to have another, too. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that an addict is more than twice as likely as a non-addict to have a mental disorder, and the reverse is also true.
The mental disorders that are most commonly associated with addiction are panic disorder and major depressive disorder. People with either of those mental disorders are more than four times as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. As high as 60 percent of people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Schizophrenia is another mental disorder that’s more commonly associated with addiction; it is estimated that approximately 70 percent of people with schizophrenia are addicted to cigarettes, and almost 50 percent abuse other drugs or alcohol.
Challenges to Sobriety
For people with a dual-diagnosis, they need to address and overcome two or more brain diseases in order to achieve lasting sobriety. Conquering more than one brain disease is generally more difficult, which is why relapse rates among addicts with a dual-diagnosis are higher than those without.
Addressing the disease of addiction and a mental disorder at the same time is difficult, but it’s essential, because the two are so closely intertwined. Some people with mental disorders develop addictions when they try to self-medicate and find relief for their symptoms. Others develop or exacerbate mental disorders after they become addicted to drugs or alcohol. It is impossible to separate one from the other.
Dual-diagnosis treatment centers are becoming more popular. When someone checks into rehab for addiction, it’s become more routine to screen them for mental disorders. Treatment for addiction and mental disorders should be in tandem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and any medication should be directed toward treating both diseases; if one disease goes untreated, it can cause the symptoms of the other to worsen.
Long-term sobriety is achievable for people with mental disorders so long as they focus on both diseases at the same time and continue to do so throughout their lives.