A substance dependence or addiction is an extremely difficult struggle in itself. It can easily and quickly consume one’s life without warning; however, sometimes this struggle is intensified with the presence of a co-occurring disorder, also known as a dual diagnosis or comorbidity. Co-occurring disorders are frighteningly common, and the toll one can take on a life already plagued with substance abuse is extreme. Depression, anxiety, and even psychosis are all possibilities, and it’s easier to get there than you may think.
Many comorbidities start simply. If you’re taking a drug for anxiety and a dependence forms, then it’s likely that withdrawal symptoms will take the form of anxiety. This anxiety will co-occur with your prescription pill addiction, making both far more difficult to overcome. Self medication poses a significant risk when dealing with mental illnesses. For some, this may take the form of drinking alcohol to negate the effects of depression. In reality, this is only worsening both an alcohol dependence and the depression itself. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that after the euphoria and drunken state wear off, the user will likely feel depressed. For a person already struggling with a depressive disorder, this effect is even more severe. The depressive effect of alcohol can worsen the depressive disorder, leading the user to drink even more to minimize the effect. This vicious cycle continues until one or both of the disorders is too much to handle. In psychology, this cycle is known as a feedback loop. Imagine a microphone too close to the speaker producing the sound of the microphone. Sound goes into the microphone and comes out of the speaker. This sound enters the microphone again, and the system repeats itself indefinitely. This is often how co-occurring disorders operate. A substance feeds into a mental disorder ore vice versa, and as such they continue to feed into each other, worsening the effects as they go.
This isn’t a difficult place to reach. The appeal of substances is often that they can offer an escape from a world rife with troubles and difficulties. There are few greater difficulties in life than a mental illness, and as such substances can seem very appealing. This is why keeping your eyes open for a dual diagnosis is important. It’s crucial to seek help before it takes hold, as the longer a feedback loop goes on, the more difficult it is to stop. If you believe that you or someone you know may be struggling with a comorbidity, it’s already time to get help. Don’t hesitate.