Dissociative Disorders and Their Relation to Substance Abuse
Dissociative disorders are primarily characterized by an individual experiencing involuntary escapes from reality. Those with the disorder also experience a chronic disconnection between their thoughts, identities, motives, and memories.
The risk of developing a dissociative disorder is equal across multiple demographics, including race, age, and economic background. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 2 percent of the population has a dissociative disorder.
Patients diagnosed with dissociative disorders often experience their first episode after a traumatic event: The initial dissociation occurs as their brains attempt to keep these painful memories under control. Over time and given more exposure to stressful situations, these symptoms will worsen and begin to impede daily functioning.
Those struggling with a dissociative disorder may go to great lengths to manage their symptoms, including abusing illegal or prescription drugs. That’s why it’s so critical that those diagnosed with dissociative disorder recognize and address their mental illness as soon as they can.
Common Symptoms of Dissociative Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders noted that there are three major types of dissociative disorders. While these disorders share a number of symptoms, the daily experience of individuals dealing with these disorders varies greatly.
General symptoms associated with all dissociative disorders include:
- Amnesia regarding people, places, and events
- Limited sense of personal identity
- Major susceptibility to stress and anxiety
- Extreme detachment from personal emotions
The three major types of dissociative disorders are as follows:
Dissociative amnesia is characterized by an individual forgetting pertinent information about his or her life and identity. The disorder most often manifests around a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse. Individuals struggling with dissociative amnesia are unable to recall information about major events, relationships with others or the traumatic event itself.
Dissociative amnesia occurs in episodes, which manifest without warning and can last moments, hours or days. In some cases, these episodes can last months or years. A patient may experience a single episode or many episodes spread throughout his or her lifetime.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), once known as, multiple personality disorder, is characterized by an individual alternating between multiple identities. In some cases, those with the disorder will describe voices in their heads that attempt to exert influence over their lives. These identities often have unique names, mannerisms, and voices.
If you’re looking for a pop culture depiction of dissociative identity disorder, think of Norman Bates from the film “Psycho” and TV series “Bates Motel.” Although, keep in mind that Norman Bates is a violent, extreme example of this disorder.
The presence of multiple identities often leaves those struggling with DID with gaps in their memory. Furthermore, the symptoms of dissociative amnesia are common among these patients. These gaps in memory emphasize the importance of those struggling with DID to seek help and treatment as soon as possible.
Depersonalization disorder is characterized by an individual’s extreme feelings of detachment from their actions, feeling, and thoughts. Individuals struggling with the disorder may feel like they’re watching a movie of their life, rather than living it.
In other cases, patients may report that the people and things in their lives no longer feel real, a phenomenon referred to as derealization.
A depersonalization episode may last just a few moments, but symptoms may reoccur throughout the individual’s lifetime. Patients generally experience their first symptoms of this disorder during adolescence. Unfortunately, they may not recognize the problem, much less seek treatment, for several years.
Risk Factors for Dissociative Disorders
Individuals typically develop a dissociative disorder in direct response to a traumatic, horrifying experience. Those who experience repeated physical, emotional or sexual abuse during childhood, for example, are among those most likely to develop a dissociative disorder.
People who have experienced a kidnapping, combat, natural disasters or an unsuccessful medical procedure are prone to developing one of these disorders as well, regardless of their age.
Finding Dissociative Disorder and Substance Abuse Treatment
Managing the symptoms of a dissociative order can be extremely difficult, especially without proper support and education. That’s why it’s not surprising that so many individuals lean on substance abuse as a means of minimizing the negative effects of their symptoms. Unfortunately, the mind-altering nature of alcohol and illegal drugs actually can actually make these symptoms more difficult to control.
For people who struggle with mental health disorders and substance abuse, it’s essential to find professionals who will treat the conditions simultaneously. Patients who enter substance abuse recovery without receiving treatment for their mental health conditions are more vulnerable to relapse. Likewise, treating a mental health condition without accounting for the effects of substance abuse is equally ineffective.
The Treatment Center by The Recovery Village offers comprehensive dual diagnosis services that treat dissociative disorders along with substance abuse problems. You can learn more about our approach to dual diagnosis treatment by calling our admissions counselors at (866) 295-6003 anytime.