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Rehabs and dual diagnosis treatment centers see thousands of patients annually, tackling the challenges of addiction and mental illness simultaneously.

Alcohol use disorder is the most widespread addiction in the US, with an estimated 17.6 million Americans suffering from alcohol dependence. This number is not surprising given alcohol’s legality, relative ease of access, and its status as a ‘social lubricant’.

Similarly, with medical marijuana legalized in 23 states and Washington DC, and recreational marijuana legal in 4 states with numbers growing, we are seeing an increase in the number of cannabis users across the country. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, marijuana is the most used drug after alcohol and tobacco.

Alcohol and marijuana are similar in the sense that not everyone who tries them or even uses them regularly, becomes an addict, or suffers from mental health issues. So what are the links between alcohol and marijuana, and what is their relationship with a dual diagnosis?

Marijuana and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol and cannabis are similar in other ways too. People often consider marijuana a gateway drug, but we could also think about alcohol the same way. Those who engage in heavy drinking are more likely to consume tobacco, marijuana, and other drugs.

This makes sense in light of research that concludes that both alcohol and marijuana abuse are related to genetic factors. The study suggests that the same genetic factors make people susceptible to either cannabis or alcohol abuse, but often the two occur together.

This research may also account for a surprising trend in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. In the debate surrounding cannabis’ legalization, many assumed that marijuana and alcohol are interchangeable as social drugs, and that increased access to marijuana would lead to a decrease in alcohol sales. However, in Colorado for example, alcohol sales have risen steadily alongside the growing market for marijuana.

Thus it would seem that people who are prone to addiction to one substance can easily start abusing the other.

Marijuana, and Mental Health

Dual diagnosis is the principle that we cannot treat addiction and mental health issues separately. Instead, patients who are diagnosed with marijuana and alcohol abuse and psychological problems require individualized treatment that addresses both issues. So what are the common dual diagnoses for those who abuse alcohol and marijuana?

Up to 37% of alcoholics also suffer from a serious mental illness. The most common mental health issues for alcoholics include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and certain personality disorders.

Cannabis abusers are prone to depression and paranoia. Teenagers who suffer from ADHD are at higher risk of becoming addicted to marijuana, possibly as a form of ‘self-medication’.

Interestingly enough, where scientists in the 1960s and 70s believed that marijuana could ‘trigger’ the onset of schizophrenia (in those who were predisposed), more recent studies suggest that the reverse is true: the genetic risk factors for schizophrenia may also increase cannabis use.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options

There are a few different treatment options for alcohol or marijuana addicts with a dual diagnosis. Alcohol dependence can be treated with some medications, but the same harm-reduction approach to marijuana addiction is still in the research phases. However, many mental health issues can be treated with psychiatric and psychological techniques, often using a combination of both.

By diagnosing each individual problem, we formulate a holistic plan to treat the patient’s addiction and their mental health. For more information about treatment options, contact Beachside Rehab.