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Dual Diagnosis: A Common, Complex Problem

On December 14, 2012, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza then shot himself in the head, taking with him any chance of understanding why he committed such a terrible crime. In the aftermath of the shootings, new media reported Lanza may have suffered from an autism spectrum disorder, promoting concerns his mental condition lead to the attack. Autism experts quickly refuted the suggestion; people with autism have lower rates of violence than the general population. Other types of mental illness, however, can result in violence when combined with substance abuse. For instance, schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations and paranoia. Schizophrenia is not associated with high rates of violence except when combined with alcohol or substance abuse. Schizophrenics with substance abuse difficulties are nine times more likely to be violent than the general population. Psychosis and Drug Use During severe schizophrenic episodes, known as psychotic breaks, individuals become unable to distinguish fantasy from reality. Drug use has long been linked to psychotic breaks. Marijuana use, for instance, has an effect on brain chemistry similar to schizophrenia. People who abuse marijuana are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-abusers. It’s unclear if the drug causes schizophrenia or triggers a latent predisposition to the mental disorder. Steroid abuse can also cause psychotic breaks. In 2007 Canadian professional wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself. While evidence was inconclusive, a steroid-induced psychotic break may have triggered Benoit’s actions. Defining Dual DiagnosisDual diagnosis describes the combination of addiction and mental illness. The two conditions act off each other, causing worse symptoms than either condition alone. In some cases, people with mental disorders take to drug abuse as a form of self-medication. In others, the drug abuse triggers the mental disorder. Dual Diagnosis Rehab Mental disorders complicate substance abuse treatment. Untreated mental disorders greatly increase the risk of relapse after drug rehab. The mental disorder, however, cannot be adequately treated while you continue to use abuse drugs or alcohol. Medication for depression, for instance, interacts badly with many street drugs and alcohol, causing a worsening of depressive symptoms. During dual diagnosis rehab, you first undergo a medically supervised detox to remove all traces of drugs from your system. Only after drugs are removed from your system can it be determined what is causing your symptoms and if you are properly medicated for your mental illness. Medication for conditions such as depression can take several weeks to work before you begin to feel its effects. Once mental illness symptoms diminish, substance abuse treatment can begin, while mental health treatments continue. Therapy, holistic treatments and support groups all help treat dual diagnosis. At The Ranch PA, we understand the need to treat mental disorders in combination with drug or alcohol dependency. In addition to drug rehab specialists and counselors, we offer psychiatric care to individuals suffering from dual diagnosis. Photo: opensourceway

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