Dissociative Disorders and Addiction

Have you ever driven down a long highway and found that you don’t remember the past few miles?  Suddenly, you’re about to miss your exit and you distinctly remember passing a sign that indicated another 20 miles to go just seconds – or what you perceive to be seconds – earlier? A trip back to your high school driver’s education class might remind you about “highway hypnosis.”  According to the University of South Carolina, this is a mild form of normal, everyday disassociation. Some individuals suffer from a greatly enhanced and abnormal dissociation, however, which is characterized into four major psychological diagnoses known as dissociative disorders.

Types of Dissociation

There are four main diagnoses listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that is regularly released by the American Psychiatric Association. Under the heading of dissociative disorder, the diagnoses are:

  • Depersonalization-derealization disorder
  • Dissociative amnesia (formerly known as psychogenic amnesia)
  • Dissociative identity disorder
  • Dissociate disorder not elsewhere classified

Depersonalization-derealization disorder is marked by experiencing a distorted sense of time, being an observer rather than a participant in one’s thoughts or activities, physical numbing, or having the feeling that one is experiencing a dream, rather than reality. The changes in this diagnosis are fairly minor, separating the feeling of experiencing a dream into its own subcategory.

Boy With Dissociative DisorderAmnesia or dissociative amnesia can take on two forms. The first type, selective amnesia, occurs when someone can’t remember a certain event, and the second type, generalized, is present if an individual can’t recall who they are and their life story. The diagnosis for this condition specifies that the amnesia is not the result of the use of drugs or alcohol as well.

Known formerly as multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder is the presence of two or more separate and individual personalities. Each of these personalities has its own way in which he or she will relate to the environment and surroundings at any given time, and the person suffering from this condition will experience memory lapses that are difficult to explain otherwise. Interestingly, the newest revision to the diagnosis allows for the fact that some cultures or religions have practices that might cause this kind of behavior and manifestations. If the condition can be explained by these means, the diagnosis would not be applied.

The final diagnosis, not otherwise specified, encompasses behaviors and symptoms that do not fall into any of the previously listed descriptions. For instance, they might be applied to someone who has been subjected to brainwashing, indoctrination, torture, cults or terrorist organizations. Dissociative disorders can lead to considerable stress, affecting work and family relationships. Those who suffer from the disorders are often able to hide their issue from the world at large, leaving families alone to deal with the fallout and disruption the condition might cause at work, home or school.

Where Do Dissociative Orders Come From?

So, how does a person develop a condition as significant as those described here?  According to CNN Health, dissociative disorders are often associated with trauma. If a person is a victim of a violent crime, for instance, or prolonged abuse, they may develop this type of disorder as a means to cope with the trauma. The abuse might be sexual or emotional in nature, occurring when the individual is still developing the full scope of his or her personality. In rare cases, the disorder can develop in adults due to severe, significant traumatic events.

Risks of Addiction and Other Complications From Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders can range from serious to mild, according to the official diagnoses descriptions. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals who suffer from these conditions may also develop sleep disorders, anxiety, eating disorders, headaches, sexual addiction or related issues, cutting (self-mutilating), and may even attempt suicide. Depression is another significant risk.

When individuals who suffer from a dissociative disorder develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they places themselves at an even higher risk of developing worsening problems. Drug abuse and addiction can cause ongoing social and financial problems on top of the original trauma issues that led to the manifestation of a dissociative disorder in the first place.

A person suffering from addiction may find they are:

  • Unable to care for children or other family members
  • Unable to meet the obligation of work or school
  • In dangerous situations, such as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Partaking in unsafe activities, such as promiscuous sexual encounters, which can lead to an increased risk of HIV/AIDS
  • Overdosing on drugs or alcohol either intentionally or unintentionally

Researchers at Columbia University, as related by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, wrote about the topic in 1999.  In their essay, “Dissociative Identity and Substance Abuse: The Forgotten Relationship,” they mention that some doctors do not recognize or acknowledge the symptoms when they are treating an individual for addiction as well, and this can be harmful to the person seeking treatment. If both conditions are not treated effectively, the odds of recovery aren’t as high.

Man with Dissociative DisorderIs There Help for Dissociative Disorders and Addiction?

There are many types of treatments available for dissociative disorders, and many of them coincide with specific services that are evidenced for the treatment of alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, psychotherapy is the most prevalent method for treating these types of psychological issues. Psychotherapy can take a considerably long time, however, and other types of therapy can be used to create a better chance for more immediate results. Keeping in mind that both of these conditions, dissociation and addiction, are chronic conditions that can reoccur, an individual seeking help can learn to manage their life in a more effective and healthy manner through diagnosis and treatment. The services and protocols for the treatment of the dissociative condition focus on the effects of the condition on one’s daily life. For example, if a person has increased anxiety because of the condition, medication can be prescribed to alleviate the anxiety, even though no medication exists for the treatment of dissociation itself.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the Treatment of Dissociative and Addictive Symptoms

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a specialized form of talk therapy that deals with specific aspects of a person’s state of mind. The process is generally of a shorter term than other psychotherapy means, having a determined number of sessions or weeks of sessions. The length of time an individual participates in the program is determined by the patient and the therapist, the progress being made and the issues that need to be addressed. It focuses attention on learning new coping skills for certain situations, which gives an individual the tools needed to make better choices. This process has shown benefit in both dissociative disorder treatment as well as addiction treatment and is recommended by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Real Help at Axis

If you are suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, and you suspect you may have a dissociate disorder as well, it is important that you find a treatment facility that understands the complexities of your unique situation. At Axis, we understand how important it is to treat the whole person, not just the symptoms of addiction, through the use of evidence-based therapies. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has created a list, Thirteen Principles of Effective Treatment, based upon years of its own research and studies they have helped fund for decades. Among these principles are:

  • Addiction is a treatable condition.
  • Treatment must attend to multiple needs of the individual seeking help.
  • A treatment plan must be reviewed and modified regularly.
  • Co-occurring conditions must be treated simultaneously.

To find out how Axis can help you, please contact us for a consultation. You can get the help you need to learn a better way of life, for you and for your family.