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.