When “Self Medicating” Means Something More
You had a “bad” day, week, month, or year. Maybe you are feeling anxious, sad, or have this longing desire to feel better, do better, or be better. You take those feelings and decide to try to “cure” them by using alcohol or drugs. Or maybe it is going shopping or gambling. At first this works. You do feel better and you think you can control your use. But, substances can quickly take over your life. Often times they turn into addictions in an attempt to treat another mental condition. This is called dual-diagnosis.
Dual-diagnosis is when a person who is struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, is also struggling with addiction. Addiction is a medical condition that is characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. It results when a person ingests a substance (alcohol, drugs) or engages in an activity (gambling, sex, shopping) that was initially pleasurable, but the continued use becomes a detriment to the individual’s daily life responsibilities.
The initial use of a substance or activity is voluntary, but continual use changes the brain chemistry making it very difficult to stop. The combination is a never-ending loop. For example, someone struggling with feelings of anxiety turns to drinking to calm themselves down, and while that might work while the chemicals are in their system, in the end, it leads to more anxiety and depression. And, for those with a serious addiction, it can have serious impacts on their health and life.
When a client is diagnosed with co-occurring conditions, counselors need to approach the conditions as a team. They work with the client and the client’s support system to establish a plan. They treat the disorder that is causing the client to feel the way they do, while also treating the addiction. Treatment of one cannot work without treatment of the other.
This is not a rare condition. In fact, scientists estimate as many of half of all individuals that struggle with addiction also struggle with co-occurring conditions.
If you have family or friends, or yourself, that are struggling with what could be a dual-diagnosis it is important that you find a qualified counselor to help treat the conditions. Dual-diagnosis, like any condition, is very serious. It can affect more than mental wellbeing, but also physical health in a very negative way.
There is hope. Proper treatment, planning, and support can lead a person to a healthy, fulfilling, happy life. At Move Forward Counseling, Abby Peters, LPC, is specially trained to help individuals with co-occuring disorders. If you are interested in her services please call us at 717-462-7003 for more information.