It is not unheard of for a child to mimic symptoms of illness in an attempt to stay home from school or receive special treatment from a parent, but what if it is an adult who is mimicking those symptoms? This is not unheard of, and is often associated with underlying psychological distress.
Also known as factitious disorder, this type of behavior in adults can have varying levels of severity and can be accompanied by other mental disorders. Addiction is a disease than can sometimes go hand in hand with factitious disorder. This presence of multiple illnesses, also known as dual diagnosis, is actually more common than you might think.
What Is A Factitious Disorder?
Factitious disorder is a mental disorder in which an adult may display false or exaggerated symptoms of a mental or physical illness that they do not actually have. These symptoms may be displayed consciously or subconsciously, however the individual is often aware that they are not actually sick. Also known as Munchausen Syndrome, this disorder —-
Factitious disorder should not be confused with malingering, which is when an individual fakes the symptoms of an illness in order to receive some sort of external reward such as time off from work or gifts from loved ones. With factitious disorder, the individual has no intention of receiving an external reward, rather the motivation is simply to assume the role of a sick person.
There is still a lot that is unknown in the realm of factitious disorders, however psychologists have drawn a link to a history of trauma or distress in the lives of individuals suffering from the disorder. It is believed that when an individual suffers from neglect or abuse as an adolescent, the sympathy and attention given while they present symptoms of being sick may be a way of coping with the stressors of their adolescence.
Individuals suffering from factitious disorders should not be viewed as attempting to scam or cheat the system, instead it is a true mental disorder that they are suffering from. If you believe a loved one suffers from factitious disorder, there are some symptoms that can often be telling of this type of mental disorder. These symptoms can include:
- Being exceptionally knowledgeable about their symptoms and alleged illness
- Symptoms that will often change, especially after a doctor’s visit or test turns out to be negative
- History of being dishonest, or a pattern of lying
- Strong desire to keep family members or loved ones from consulting with their doctors
- Symptoms that seem to appear or disappear randomly
- Little fear of hospitals, procedures, tests, etc
- Very open in talking about diagnosis, tests, treatments, etc.
The Hidden Dangers Of Factitious Disorders
For some individuals suffering from factitious disorders, it may be a cry for help from a mental health standpoint. Factitious disorders can often be accompanied by other mental illnesses including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and addiction. It is important to remember that while the symptoms they are ‘presenting’ may be falsified or exaggerated, there are some hidden symptoms that are very real and could even be dangerous.
Acting on factitious disorders can be dangerous as well, as often times individuals suffering from the disorder will undergo many procedures and tests as a part of their feigned illness. Side effects and dangers of factitious disorders can include:
- Going into financial distress from medical bills associated with their ‘illness’
- Losing the trust of friends and family if the truth is discovered
- Suffering from other real symptoms resulting from unnecessary treatments or medications
- Physically harming oneself to produce a specific symptom
- Overshadowing or ignoring actual symptoms of mental disorders the individual is suffering from due to focusing on their falsified ailment
- Drug use associated with the stress of keeping up their story, or used in producing some of their falsified symptoms
Drug Use And Factitious Disorders
Drug use is not uncommon to find in individuals suffering from factitious disorders. There are many connections between addiction and factitious disorders, beginning with very similar symptoms. The history of distress or trauma related to factitious disorders is also present in addiction, as well as frequent lying and getting into financial issues because of both disorders.
There are many reasons that an individual suffering from factitious disorders may use drugs. One common reason is to produce a certain type of symptom for their claimed ailment. For example, some drugs may cause hallucinations and other types of behavior that is congruent with psychosis. Psychosis can be a symptom for many illnesses, especially mental disorders. Another reason an individual suffering from factitious disorders may partake in recreational drug use is to overcome the guilt and loneliness associated with living the lie of their proclaimed illness.
Lastly, it is possible for an individual to become addicted to certain types of medications that may be prescribed to them to treat their falsified symptoms or ailment. Chronic pain, for example, is something that doctors would be likely to prescribe an opioid pain medication for. Opioids are a highly addictive drug that can lead to other types of addiction, such as heroin or opium. Especially when taken without need, also known as recreational use, the effects of prescription opioids can be a welcome presence to an individual suffering from the guilt or stress of keeping up such an immense lie.
Defining Dual Diagnosis
Dual diagnosis is something that is ever-present in the world of addiction. Dual diagnosis is defined as when an individual is diagnosed with a mental disorder and a substance abuse disorder concurrently. Dual diagnosis is more common than you might think, as many substance abuse disorders are the result of an underlying mental illness or trauma.
It is not uncommon, however, for individuals to go many years with a proper dual diagnosis. Often times individuals suffering from addiction or substance abuse issues may be hesitant to discuss their past or other symptoms they may be experiencing. Without this information, it is difficult to give a proper diagnosis and even more difficult to treat the underlying cause of the addiction.
According to the 2014 Survey On Drug Use and Health, dual diagnosis is so commonly associated with addiction that over 39% of adults suffering from a substance use disorder have also been diagnosed with another mental disorder. This percentage could be substantially higher, but it is estimated that nearly 35% of mental disorders in the United States are left undiagnosed due to stigma, lack of information, or lack of access to a mental health professional.
It can also be difficult to diagnose some mental disorders in the presence of a substance use disorder or addiction. Many symptoms of these disorders are quite similar, and can be interchanged between disorders. For example, the self-pity and habitual lying associated with factitious disorders can also be associated with clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Additionally, clients are not always completely truthful about some of the symptoms they experience, making accurate diagnosis extremely difficult.
Get Help Today
Do some of these symptoms sound familiar? If a loved one or family member has exhibited some of these symptoms in the past, it may be time to intervene. While it may be tempting to focus on the lying or falsifying aspects of factitious disorders, it is indeed a mental disorder that can be dangerous if left untreated.
Addiction can bring similar feelings as well. It is important to not take some of the side effects of these disorders, such as manipulation and self-pity, as a personal insult. Keep in mind that it is very likely your loved one has suffered a trauma or distress that was left untreated and unrecognized for many years.
Love and support can come in many forms, but when it comes to addiction the best thing you can do for someone you love is get them the professional help they need. Millions of people across the US struggle with addiction each year, and many of them cannot overcome it on their own. There is no shame in asking for help. Our addiction treatment specialists have been specifically trained to walk you through this process. Our specialists can take your call around the clock, and your conversation is always 100% confidential. We can help, give us a call today.
For More Information Related to “Factitious Disorders and Addiction” Be Sure To Check Out These Additional Resources From DrugRehab.org:
- Social Learning Theory Of Addiction Treatment
- Co-Occuring Disorders: Alcoholism and Narcissistic Personality
- Dual Diagnosis: Anxiety Disorders And Substance Abuse
- Dual Diagnosis: Agoraphobia and Addiction
- Dual Diagnosis: Sex Addiction And Mental Illness
Annals of Internal Medicine – Factitious Disorders in a Teaching Hospital
Cleveland Clinic – An Overview of Factitious Disorders
General Hospital Psychiatry – Factitious Disorders And Pathological Self-Harm In A Hospital Population
International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine – Update on Factitious Disorders