Dual Diagnosis Treatment Who Can Benefit

The term dual diagnosis refers to a condition in which a person has both a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder simultaneously. Each condition worsens the other, intensifying symptoms and complicating recovery.

A dual diagnosis approach offers integrated treatment options, which significantly improves outcomes over traditional therapy approaches that do not differentiate the two conditions.

Diversity of Dual Disorders

Even though studies may group people together when they suffer from mental illnesses and addictions, most treatment providers agree that there is no single type of dual disorder. As a broad category, dual diagnosis involves a host of different possible illnesses and conditions.

From mild depression to severe bipolar disorder, any mental illnesses recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders can be part of a dual diagnosis when combined with substance abuse. These mental disorders become increasingly complex when a person suffering from the illness also abuses drugs or alcohol. Therefore, such situations warrant a dual diagnosis and a simultaneous treatment protocol.

The symptoms people experience vary greatly depending on the mental illness involved. Some forms of psychiatric illness can impair an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis, while another mental illness might only cause periodic impairment.

When substance abuse is added to the mix, the nature of dual disorders becomes even more diverse. For example, depending on the particular substance being abused, a person may feel sedated and calm, while another person may feel energized or paranoid. Both patients could have a dual diagnosis, but their disease modalities are unique, so the specific treatment paths would also be different.

Importance of Integrated Treatment

For the reasons noted above, effective treatment for individuals with a dual diagnosis necessarily involves an integrated treatment plan. This means that both conditions—the mental disorder and the addiction—will be treated at the same time.

If only one problem is treated at a time, it leaves the other problem in place. Since the two conditions aggravate each other, there is an elevated risk for continued imbalance that may severely impair recovery. For real, lasting improvement and healing to occur, both issues must be addressed together.

Effective integrated treatment can involve inpatient or outpatient programs, depending on the nature and severity of the symptoms. Both types of programs typically include the following features:

  • Parallel treatment of mental health and substance use disorders
  • Balanced use of psychotherapeutic medications, such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds
  • Group and/or individual therapy that builds self-confidence and restores self-esteem
  • Ongoing recovery strategy, including education, as well as the involvement of partners, spouses, children and family members

Reaping the Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

A study in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that many with a dual diagnosis had related issues that significantly impacted the quality of their lives. In addition to the symptoms inherent to their illnesses, they experienced things like:

  • Poor family and social relationships
  • Undesirable living arrangements
  • A history of arrest
  • Previous psychiatric hospitalizations
  • A history of abusing multiple drugs

Anyone struggling with the compound symptoms of co-occurring disorders could benefit from a dual diagnosis treatment. Integrated treatment offers better outcomes for severe cases of addiction, including users of multiple substances and users with severe forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

People with a dual diagnosis frequently need more intensive help in order to achieve sobriety. The diversity and effectiveness of integrated treatment offers the understanding care and specialized assistance they need.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment What Is It

For a long time, people experiencing the symptoms of mental health disorders where treated separately from those needing help with drug or alcohol abuse. Mental illnesses were sometimes ignored or those with overlapping conditions were frequently denied treatment for their psychiatric disorders until the substance abuse was under control.

This began to change in the 1990s with the advent of dual diagnosis treatment. This relatively new concept in addiction recovery involves recognizing that someone can experience mental illness and substance abuse simultaneously.

Determining the Dual Diagnosis

Although dual diagnosis is a broad category, there are two key factors involved in determining whether the diagnosis is warranted.

An individual must meet the criteria for mental illness as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is an official guideline for mental health professionals and is used for diagnosing and treating patients. A dual diagnosis also requires symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction or abuse.

In other words, someone experiencing a mental health condition could be using drugs to self-medicate, in an effort to improve their troubling mental health symptoms. On the other hand, if someone is abusing drugs, they could trigger or intensify an underlying mental health condition.

The diagnosis does not require identifying which of these issues developed first; it only requires that both be present.

Co-Occurring Symptoms and Dual Diagnosis

When both a mental health illness and a substance use disorder coexist, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders. People with mental health disorders are more likely to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder than are those without mental health disorders.

According to information from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the frequency of co-occurring disorders is significant:

  • Approximately 7.9 million adults had co-occurring disorders in 2014.
  • About one third of people experiencing mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.
  • About fifty percent of those living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.
  • Men are more likely to develop co-occurring disorders than women.
  • Military veterans, individuals with lower socioeconomic status and people with general medical illnesses have particularly high risk for co-occurring disorders.

Dual diagnosis is a relatively new approach for identifying and treating people with these co-occurring disorders. Unlike times in the past, where one set of symptoms may have been ignored or left untreated, individuals with co-occurring disorders can now receive integrated treatment.

With a dual diagnosis, practitioners can address mental and substance use disorders at the same time, creating better outcomes for their patients.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis

Although there are numerous variables for treating someone with a dual diagnosis, it commonly involves an integrated intervention. In this treatment, the patient receives care for both the substance abuse and any identified mental illness.

Addiction often has to do with trauma, anxiety, depression and chemical imbalances in the brain. Those struggling with addiction frequently try to relieve their own pain through drugs or alcohol.

But if they have struggled with an undiagnosed mental illness, getting a dual diagnosis can bring great relief. Identifying a specific mental condition that may be contributing to the substance abuse can give a tremendous sense of hope and open new doors for effective treatment.

Mental disorders and addiction have multiple underlying causes, but dual diagnosis treatment deals with these simultaneously, enabling a full and lasting recovery.

Take Control Making the Decision to Get Treatment

When people make the choice to get addiction treatment, they should remember that getting help is not an admission of failure. People don’t need to feel bad about their choice not to fight this battle alone—that’s what treatment is for. Choosing to get help means that they recognize the problem, and they accept responsibility for their lives and their choices going forward.

There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” It doesn’t matter what people have been through in the past, or how many mistakes they’ve made; making the decision to get treatment is standing up that eighth time.

Choosing Treatment

Making the choice to get treatment can bring out a lot of emotions. Admitting to needing help, picking the right treatment center and experiencing the symptoms of detox can be overwhelming. That’s a lot of change.

Family issues often develop alongside addiction. Healing family ties will help people be able to move on from past traumas and disputes and focus solely on feeling better. Family will likely be their strongest support network, so it is important to be honest with one another and develop an open line of communication. Each wound that is healed is a great stride toward cleansing their lives and healing their mind and body.

Get the Right Information

Seeking treatment is most effective if a person chooses a facility that fits their personality and needs. To do that, it’s best to start gathering information about various treatment facilities. It’s important not to just pick the closest place, but instead choose the facility that is best equipped to deal with their particular situation. Out-of-state treatment is significantly more effective than in-state treatment because it removes people from their triggering areas of familiarity and makes it much more difficult to give up and go home.

The types of programs available and cost of treatment are also something to consider. It would be nice if people didn’t have to worry about the price tag, but that’s not realistic. They should look into how much the treatment will cost and what the payment options are. Talking to experienced counselors can help them make the right choice when it comes to treatment.

Follow Through with the Recovery Plan

After determining which facility is right for them, it’s time to follow through with the treatment plan. Just reading and learning about their condition and the various types of treatment is not going to make the problem go away. Making the decision to get treatment is hard, but taking control of their lives will lead themto a much happier, brighter future.

That first step can be scary. It’s stepping into the unknown, onto a path that they may not have walked before. But their new life of health and success will greatly outweigh these brief moments of discomfort.

Relapse Triggers

Addiction recovery is a long road, but it is one that is worth traveling. As with any journey, there are a plethora of ways to reach the destination—some longer, some shorter—but the important thing is to keep moving forward. Sometimes there are roadblocks, though. Sometimes things like peer pressure, cravings or depression slowly creep in and narrow the pathway until it is completely blocked, causing a relapse.

People on the path to recovery may stumble and fall down for a bit, but theycan always get back up. It’s just a matter of remembering the purpose of their journey and pushing forward. In order to continue on the path to recovery, it’s important to be able to recognize and combat common triggers of relapse.

Make New Friends

While people are in rehab, they’re away from everyone who they used to abuse drugs or alcohol with. They’re safe. But once they return to day-to-day life, that all changes. They’re submerged back into the world where they used, but all of a sudden they’re no longer using. It’s a huge life change. The good news is that with the right support group and sober friends, they will be able to enjoy life in a brand new way.

It is important for anyone in recovery to have a good network in place of people who support their sobriety. That way people know where to go and what to do when they begin feeling desperate—instead of turning back to drugs. They could even start to make a difference in other people’s lives. The important thing is removing themselves from as many triggering events as possible, including old friends.

Avoid Pink Cloud Syndrome

It is common for people who find their sobriety and start living in recovery to believe that they are no longer at risk for relapse. They’re living a new life, and addiction can’t touch them anymore. This is called pink cloud syndrome. The unfortunate truth is that addiction is a disease, and no matter how long they’re sober, they’re still in recovery.

People who experience pink cloud syndrome paint a false picture around themselves as a way to cope with the after-effects of addiction. They feel unable to cope on their own, so they remove themselves from reality. Sadly, this type of thinking only ends in heartache and, sometimes, relapse.

Deal with Stress in a Healthy Way

Sometimes the emotions, problems and situations that first led a person to using will also lead them to relapse. This means that they have to be especially careful during recovery when life gets tough. If a person loses a job, argues with their significant other or faces everyday challenges, it is vital that they are educated on how to handle high levels of stress without falling back into substance abuse. These life skills can be difficult to learn, but with the proper help from a professional counselor, they’ll be able to take anything the world can throw at them.

Don’t Lose Hope

Relapse can be scary. But it is avoidable with a proper relapse prevention plan. People should take any opportunity to put an advantage in their corner. Paying attention to common triggers and learning how to cope with them in a healthy way—or avoiding them altogether—will allow them to stay on the path to recovery. It is a beautiful journey, after all.