What are the Dangers of Leaving Dual-Diagnosis Untreated?

Dealing with any form of mental health condition is a difficult and time-consuming task. For example, individuals suffering from addiction have to manage the associated side-effects until they receive treatment. When an individual suffers from a dual-diagnosis, they suffer from an increased amount of side-effects. Because of this, leaving a dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorder untreated is considered to be extremely dangerous.

Leaving a dual-diagnosis untreated can pose serious dangers and risks in varying ways. However, there is a myriad of reasons why co-occurring disorders may be left untreated. For example, one of the main reasons happens to be financial issues. Oftentimes, individuals suffering from a dual-diagnosis are unable to pay for the treatment they need. Additionally, many people may be unaware of their co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one suffer from co-occurring disorders, continue reading to learn more about the dangers of leaving a dual-diagnosis untreated.

What is Dual-Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorders?

By definition, dual-diagnosis describes a practice that treats people who suffer from both an addiction and a mental health condition. For example, individuals may be addicted to substances, gambling, sex, or a combination of things. Also, it is common for individuals suffering from an addiction to also suffer from a secondary issue. To explain, many people who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction also suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and much more.

Unfortunately, the dual nature of this affliction is what remains highly undiagnosed and untreated. Oftentimes, the symptoms of addiction and various mental health conditions overlap. In other words, the symptoms of each co-occurring disorder can be extremely similar. Besides, having a dual-diagnosis is highly common. For example, studies have found that 50% of persons with a diagnosed mental health condition are affected by substance abuse. Also, 50% of drug users and nearly 40 percent of alcohol abusers have at least one diagnosable mental illness.

Experiencing two mental health conditions at once often exacerbates and complicates the treatment process. This is caused by the symptoms of one illness diluting or enhancing the symptoms of the other. For example, if a person suffers from depression but abuses cocaine, their symptoms of depression will become diluted. Consequently causing their depression to be left untreated and unmanaged as a result of it being undetectable. Also, this may cause individuals to continually self-medicate their mental health condition – leading to a worsening of one’s symptoms and overall health.

What Happens if Dual-Diagnosis Goes Untreated?

As previously mentioned, untreated dual-diagnosis can lead individuals to self-medicate at alarming rates. This presents a huge concern as many of those suffering from co-occurring disorders already self-medicate as a means of soothing or combating certain symptoms. Unfortunately, this form of self-medication often leads to tolerance and addiction.

The main risks of untreated dual-diagnosis include:

  • High risk of suicide
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Violent tendencies against self or others

However, the mentioned risks of dual-diagnosis can be avoided when individuals receive proper intervention and treatment. If you or a loved one suffer from co-occurring disorders, it is vital that you seek treatment promptly and follow through with all aspects of your treatment plan. If not, you may experience the following risks associated with leaving dual-diagnosis conditions untreated.

Increasingly Worse Episodes

Unfortunately, the longer an individual waits to receive treatment, the worse their symptoms become. In other words, the individual’s episodes will become more frequent and severe. This holds especially true for individuals with co-occurring disorders, as drug and alcohol abuse exacerbates the symptoms of most psychiatric disorders.

Heightened Risk of Contracting Infectious Diseases

When an individual suffers from a dual-diagnosis, they are more likely to contract infectious diseases such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This is because individuals abusing substances are more likely to engage in unsafe sex as a result of lowered inhibitions.

Health Risks

Unfortunately, untreated dual-diagnosis is known to manifest in ways that deteriorate the body’s internal structure and function. When left untreated, these new symptoms are often ignored or neglected. For example, individuals may develop symptoms like coughing or wheezing as a result of cigarette smoking. In fact, persons with psychotic disorders are more likely to develop heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, among other things.

School, Home Life, and Family Issues

If left untreated, co-occurring disorders cause a variety of social issues for the individual experiencing it. For example, teenagers with untreated ADHD may act out in school, turn to drugs, or get in legal trouble as a result of their illness. According to research, adolescents and teens have higher rates of suicide, truancy, homelessness, and unemployment when they have untreated dual-diagnosis.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Finding the correct treatment for dual-diagnosis can be extremely difficult. Sometimes, individuals may even be unaware of their co-occurring disorder. However, if you or a loved one believe you suffer from dual-diagnosis or have been previously diagnosed; Voices of Mental Health is here to help. Our staff is comprised of compassionate individuals who understand your daily struggle and know how difficult it can be to find the best way to manage your co-occurring disorders.  Contact us today for more information on dual-diagnosis treatment.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Cayla Clark, BA

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.