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Alcoholism and Mental Health

July 11, 2017

It is often difficult for psychiatric and medical professionals to properly diagnose mental illness in patients who are struggling with an active chemical dependency. Heavy drinking (associated with alcoholism) often contributes to, coexists with, or directly results from the presence of varying psychiatric syndromes. In order to accurately diagnose patients that struggle with co-occurring disorders, medical professionals will take into account genetic predisposition (family history), age, gender, and the course of each illness over time. Still, if an individual is actively drinking on a regular basis (and to excess), it can be nearly impossible to accurately diagnose another, pre-existing condition. For this reason, it is imperative that those who may be suffering from a co-occurring disorder attend a dual diagnosis treatment center, geared towards recovery from both alcoholism and mental illness.

Heavy alcohol use directly affects brain function, and has been known to significantly alter the actual chemistry of the brain over time. Alcohol also interferes with the hormonal systems directly linked to the eventual development of a number of mental disorders. Of these, mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorder) and anxiety are the most prevalent amongst diagnosed alcoholics. Because of this, it is not at all shocking that alcoholism typically manifests in a number of psychiatric signs and symptoms. In many cases, in fact, alcoholic men and women will initially seek help for their psychiatric symptoms – not for their excessive and uncontrollable drinking patterns. For example, an alcoholic individual may seek psychiatric guidance for overwhelming symptoms of depression – a lack of motivation, a disinterest in previously enjoyed activities, and a decline in productivity at work. In doing so, they are overlooking the fact that consuming mass quantities of a chemical depressant may be contributing to their mental symptoms.

The element of denial often makes co-occurring disorders even more difficult to effectively diagnose. Those who grapple with alcoholism, especially in the very early stages, tend to fall victim to denial – the refusal to accept the reality of the situation. The disease of addiction works to convince the sufferer that there is no issue; that everything is under control, and that there must be something else going on (seeing the idea of an alcohol dependency is absolutely preposterous). Those who struggle with the symptoms of mental illness before turning to alcohol as a means of self-medication may be inclined to blame their alcohol abuse on their disorder. “I’m not an alcoholic, I drink because it helps to alleviate my social anxiety.” “I don’t have a problem with alcohol, I have a problem with depression. Alcohol makes me feel better.” The truth of the matter is, however, that alcohol abuse will exacerbate and worsen the symptoms of nearly all mental health issues.

When treating alcoholism and mental health disorders, it is not always important to immediately determine which issues preceded the other. It is most important to treat both disorders thoroughly, effectively, and simultaneously. For this reason, it is essential that individuals who are struggling with alcoholism and mental illness attend an inpatient treatment facility that specializes in dual diagnosis disorders. For more information on our comprehensive program of addiction and mental health recovery, please feel free to contact us today.