Judging purely by intuition, you might expect dual diagnosis to indicate that a patient is suffering from two possible disorders, or maybe two disorders or diseases of the same type (such as a depressive and anxiety disorder). But that is not the case, and the reality is important to understand. Dual diagnosis has to do with how drug addiction factors into a diagnosis.
Addiction is quite frequently misunderstood. People assume that it is a bad habit, or a pattern of someone making the same poor decision over and over again. But doctors treat it differently.
The consensus among the medical community is that addiction is a disease. But what kind of disease is it? It isn’t an infection, nor is it a cancer or a virus. That is because addiction, for all of its effect on the human body’s chemistry, is considered a mental disorder.
How is Addiction a Mental Disorder?
This raises a lot of questions, particularly regarding the meaning of the category that we call “mental disorder”. Particularly if you are coming at addiction from a perspective of thinking addiction is just a series of bad choices, you might be wondering: How is it a mental disorder?
There are two things to consider in proving this logically. The first is that the category of mental disorder is made up. Humans made the words to describe certain kinds of disease. Many people assume mental disorders are relegated to depression and anxiety. It is uncommon to find anyone educated in how disorders like bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorder work.
The second thing to consider is that all mental disorders have a physical component. Yes, drug addiction has a massive, transformative impact on human body chemistry. But so does depression, bipolar disorder, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder.
When thinking about addiction as a mental disorder, you have to remember that mental disorders are characterized as much by the chemical states that cause a person to act a certain way as they are characterized by the behaviors they exhibit as a result.
The Chemical States of Mental Health Disorders
Human brains run on electrical signals and neurotransmitters. Electrical signals both produce and are produced by neurotransmitters, while neurotransmitters carry commands from the brain to the rest of the body. There are three core neurotransmitters: Dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. These are the building blocks of what makes a person a functional person.
To begin with, let’s start by talking about each of them and how they are affected by various mental health disorders, as all mental health disorders interact with them.
When you feel happy, it is usually because the activity you are taking part in produces dopamine in your system. Dopamine is literally the neurotransmitter than makes you feel happiness and relieves stress. But it cannot be produced all the time.
Part of the reason bipolar disorder is so debilitating is that sufferers from that illness will go from overproducing dopamine to being completely unable to produce it. This will lead them to experience euphoric highs and dangerously depressed lows.
The human sleep cycle is complex, but serotonin can be considered the lynchpin of it. It is the neurotransmitter than causes muscles to relax and sleep to dominate the mind.
Depression can inhibit the production of serotonin. Part of this is the fact that depression inhibits dopamine production as well, which is required for healthy serotonin production. As a result, sleep is harder to get, and harder to wake from when it does happen.
Probably the least well-known neurotransmitter, noradrenaline is the hormone that causes you to fidget and prepares you to move. This is because it deals with responding to threats.
People with anxiety disorders have a problem of their brain responding to everything with noradrenaline production. This results in them being panicky all the time, or numb.
How Addiction Factors Into This
Now that you know the neurotransmitters associated with mental health disorders, you might be wondering: Which transmitters does addiction interact with? The answer: All of them.
This is what makes addiction so closely tied in with other mental health disorders, as well as what makes it a mental health disorder on its own. Dual diagnosis is the observation that an addiction is both causing and caused by another mental health disorder, such as depression.
Most of the time, this will happen as a result of how a drug or alcohol creates a dopamine reaction in the body. The dopamine reaction creates a serotonin reaction, and then the serotonin reaction helps balance the noradrenaline reactions a person has.
But think about what is happening there: The body produces dopamine in response to the high of cocaine, or the mellow feeling of alcohol consumption. Remember when we said that the body can only produce so much dopamine? Well, if you force your body to produce dopamine by using a drug, then it will have trouble maintaining a healthy balance of it later.
That is how the vicious cycle of addiction starts. Soon, using the drug or drinking the drink will be the only way your body knows how to get the dopamine it needs.
Treating Addiction in Teenagers
As you may know from the BasePoint Academy Website, one of our main considerations is how addiction and mental health both impact teenagers. For that reason, we have studied how a dual diagnosis might be handled. Thankfully, the overlap in conditions also means an overlap in treatment. Many treatments that work on one will work on both at the same time.
Anti-depressants can be combined with detox drugs to help a person deal with the physical experience of addiction, while counseling can help deal with the emotions.
A dual diagnosis can be scary, especially for a parent who has a teenager who has turned to drugs for whatever reason. But it is far from a death sentence, and a lot of work has gone into figuring out the best way to treat layered mental conditions such as these.
The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.