What Is Dual Diagnosis?


Dealing with a dual diagnosis is like breaking your foot on purpose because you have a splitting headache. Yes, the pain of a headache dissipates, but now you have a broken foot to worry about. This is an extreme analogy of what it is actually like because when it comes to dual diagnosis, we are dealing with a mood disorder.

Treating Two Problems Simultaneously

Dual diagnosis is a term used when a person has a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety alongside a problem with alcohol or drugs. So, going back to the analogy of having a headache, people suffering from dual diagnosis will use drugs to mask the symptoms of their mood disorders, which in turn causes more harm.

Attention Deficit
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Recovery is possible when the individuals receive treatment for both their mood disorders and their substance abuse disorders.

I lived in denial for many years about my own dual diagnosis. I didn’t think I had a problem with drugs but also sure as hell believed that I didn’t have a mood disorder. The reality was a little bit different, though. I had the inattentive type of attention deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety, and trouble sleeping. I used drugs and alcohol to mask all of those symptoms and it worked out great for a while.

Self Medication

I was big into self-medicating. When my mind was racing because of my ADD or anxiety, I would simply smoke a joint, take a Xanax, or pick up a drink. My mind would stop racing and I know longer cared about anything, at least for that moment. Little did I know I was dealing with a dual diagnosis problem worse than I could ever imagine.

As I grew older, my conditions got worse. Excessive drug use and binge drinking became my way of dealing with everything. My family was concerned for me, my close friends stopped talking to me, and my siblings were torn because of my actions. By the time I was in college, I was a complete mess.

The Illusion of Rock Bottom

Did I reach the bottom? Well, I believe that the theory of “bottom” for drug addicts is a flawed theory. Drug addicts and alcoholics can experience more emotional, physical, and even spiritual pain than anyone on this planet. A bottom is anytime you decide to stop digging. My bottom would have been dying but I stopped digging once I hit the hard concrete walls of the psych ward.

Staying up for five days straight without sleeping and eating but only consuming amphetamines is a sure way to end up in a terrible place. I didn’t die, but I came close. I was in horrible physical health and I had fully lost my mind in a drug-induced state. All of this time I thought I was dealing with my anxiety by shoving pills down my throat, but I was actually making it worse, all while almost killing myself. I need treatment, not just for my addiction but also for my dual diagnosis. Thankfully there are dual diagnosis rehab facilities around the country. I entered one and it saved my life.

My treatment center focused on treating my anxiety, insanity, and ADD in addition to providing addiction treatment. The center taught me basic principles and tools I could take with me whenever I was struggling. For example, I learned that physical exercise and meditation can help me greatly with my anxiety. I discovered that when I start getting distracted and my ADD threatens to overwhelm me, I take deep breaths. Finally, I found that when I start feeling shaky about drugs or alcohol, going to a 12-step meeting helps.

A Lifetime of Sobriety

The road to recovery for me was challenging at first. I thought that drugs and alcohol were the solutions to my problem and suddenly they were out of the picture. The problem, however, was me, so I had to figure out ways to fill this giant void I had burning inside of me. It was tough, but for me, the best solution is Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps. I swore I would never be a part of the AA program, but it saved my life and in return gave me a completely better one.

Today I am happy and have peace of mind. These are two things I didn’t think were possible without marijuana. The happiness I enjoy on a daily basis just from being sober and alive outweighs any drug or drink I have ever had. After completing the 12 steps, I had a spiritual awakening and I no longer even think about using. My life is amazing and I owe it to dual diagnosis treatment and the support I have received from everyone close to me.

About the author

Ben Emerling enjoys writing, helping people with their sobriety, and playing and watching sports.


3 thoughts on “What Is Dual Diagnosis?

  1. an informed, concise recovery resource post. this information is priceless, dual diagnosis would help so many people who like the author, (this was almost exactly my experence in skirting INSANITY) don’t know anyway other than ‘using’ to drown out the horrific cost of longterm depression and the myriad mental disorders that stem from it.


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