It is not uncommon for a person suffering from a mental illness to develop a substance use disorder; in fact, they are at a higher risk of struggling with addiction than those without a mental illness.
However, with preventative methods like mental health screenings, addiction treatment centers can help those struggling with mental illnesses find the proper coping mechanisms before addiction even enters the scene.
Understanding dual diagnosis
Substance use and mental health issues usually interact in one of two ways: by exaggerating the symptoms of a mental health disorder or by counteracting them.
For example, someone struggling with depression may find their symptoms are intensified by the use of alcohol (a depressant). Drinking alcohol can make them feel hopeless, sluggish or even suicidal. By exacerbating these already present symptoms of depression, the individual may then begin to feel so disengaged from life that they continually return to alcohol as a remedy, only to sink deeper into both depression and the addiction.
However, other individuals may self-medicate their depression with the use of a stimulant like cocaine. Such stimulants fight the most common symptoms of depression by making the person feel more alert and energetic. But once that high wears off, depression symptoms return in full force, making it more difficult for that individual to cope with their emotions. This cycle encourages repeated use of the stimulant and can lead to addiction.
In both cases, an existing mental health disorder facilitates the growth of an addiction.
The importance of addiction mental health screenings
Because mental health illnesses can quickly turn into a substance use addiction, proactive methods like mental health screenings are crucial in preventing co-occurring disorders.
Mental health screenings are exactly what they sound like—it is a diagnostic test used to assess your emotional and physical health and identify, before symptoms become extreme or addiction starts, the possibility of developing a co-occurring disorder.
Early screenings mean that you can get the treatment you need sooner, thus leading to better outcomes. Instead of turning to drugs or alcohol to relieve symptoms, you can instead meet with a therapist, receive approved medications and learn coping mechanisms needed to manage any diagnosed mental health disorder.
What is a mental health screening like?
A licensed mental health professional or physician can administer an assessment to help diagnose a mental health disorder. During these screenings, you will be evaluated on family history, mental and physical health and cognitive capabilities.
Personal and family history – You will be asked about your history, including how long symptoms have been present, past treatments, if there’s a record of mental illness in the family and if you’ve been using any drugs, alcohol or prescription medication. You will talk about your current lifestyle, including job and family dynamic, your childhood and any experienced past trauma. This will help unveil the root of the mental disorder.
Mental exam – In order to better understand and examine your feelings and behaviors, you’ll be questioned about mood, emotion, behavior and thought patterns and expressions.
Physical exam – Blood tests can help reveal any underlying physical illnesses that may be contributing to the mental illness.
Cognitive exam – Certain mental disorders negatively impact cognitive functioning, so it’s also important to exam things like personality, memory, attention and information recall.
Upon completion of the screening, your mental health professional will review all findings and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Early intervention is key
If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are concerned about the possibility of a co-occurring disorder, preventative action is important. By reaching out to a treatment center early on, you can begin working with a counselor to develop healthy coping mechanisms and build up strong mental health over time.
For those who do have co-occurring disorders, a lack of mental health disorder awareness and treatment resources can make it difficult to get the right kind of care. Thankfully, however, many addiction treatment programs offer dual diagnosis treatment to address any existing mental health issues early on.