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A Breakdown on Dual Diagnosis

September 06, 2022

The reasons that someone may start abusing drugs or alcohol are as varied as the individuals themselves. Many times it may not be just one reason or another but a combination of reasons that result in the person picking up their first drink or drug. They may initially be curious as to the effects that drugs or alcohol will have on them, or they may have curiosity because they have seen friends or family drink or drug. They may be bored and are just looking for a way to fill their time. They may start drinking or using drugs so that they can fit in with their friends, or they may start using because of an underlying undiagnosed physical or mental condition.

Having an underlying physical or mental condition and drinking or using drugs in order to alleviate its symptoms is called self-medicating, and often times this can lead to the development of alcohol or drug addiction. People who self-medicate in order to ease the symptoms of another condition are frequently unaware of the existence of their underlying condition and they only know that when they use drugs or alcohol they feel better. They use substances are a solution to their issues and in doing so they actually wind up creating greater problems for themselves down the road.

For people for fall into the self-medicating category of drug or alcohol abuse it is important that they get help for their underlying condition if they are going to attempt to lead a sober and productive life. In the past drug treatment and mental health treatment were viewed as separate conditions and as such people who suffered from both were often times only treated for their addiction, which leaving their mental health issues unchecked, eventually caused them to return to drug or alcohol abuse.

Over the past 20 years our understanding of the way that addiction and mental health issues co-exist with each other has lead to the development of treatment programs and services that focus on the dual diagnosis of these individuals and works to get them help for both their addiction and their underlying mental health issues.

Mental health diagnoses when coupled with addiction can be complicated, but with the right form of treatment, education, and medication where necessary, recovery from both is not only possible, but probable.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis as a concept is still infancy and as such many people misunderstand it. The term is used to describe a person who suffers from both an addiction, whether that be to alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc., and a co-existing psychiatric disorder. A person who suffers from this has two illnesses that may exacerbate one another, but need to be treated separately. For instance many people who first get clean and sober suffer from some sort of depression, obsessive compulsiveness, or anxiety, but in time these things go away as the person’s recovery takes hold, but for someone who has both addiction and an underlying condition, the symptoms described above will not go away just because they are sober. For a person who suffers from both addiction and an underlying psychiatric disorder, if their mental health issues are not dealt with properly they are at a much greater risk for relapse because they will many times go back to their only known solution for dealing with their symptoms.

The most important thing for a person who has both an addiction and underlying psychiatric condition is that they receive the proper diagnosis for their mental health issues. Without dealing with both the addiction and the psychiatric condition, sustained recovery is usually exceedingly difficult.

What is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Treatment of this kind started in the 1990s when experts in the field began to recognize the importance of treating addiction and mental health issues separately. Experts found that about a third of the people who were suffering from a mental illness also had substance abuse problems, and about half of people with a severe mental illness, also had a substance abuse issue. The high correlation between mental health issues and addiction lead to a closer examination of this link and resulted in a treatment approach that addressed both issues separately

A treatment program that offers help for both addiction and mental health issues is in many ways like a traditional drug treatment program, but the difference being that there is a higher level of care in regards to psychiatric diagnoses. A treatment program of this kind will have professionals who are trained in diagnosing underlying mental conditions and there will be a greater amount of psychotherapy and medication available if necessary.

If you are looking for a treatment program that offers this sort of care you can expect the process to look like this:

  • Detox

Before anything can occur in terms of a diagnosis or recovery a person must first safely get off of the drugs or alcohol they are currently abusing. Detox is where this will occur and person who enters into a detox with be given the ability to withdrawal from their substance of choice so that they can continue their treatment with a mind and body free from substances.

  • Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient treatment is the bulk of the treatment program for people who are seeking to get sober and deal with their underlying mental health issues. During this part of the treatment program they will be introduced to the ideas of recovery and also they will meet with therapists and psychiatrists in order to being the process of dealing with their mental health issues.

  • Introduction to Support Groups

Once a person completes their inpatient rehab program they often times then attend out patient groups a few times a week. While they are in out patient and continuing after this clients are encouraged to continue to go to support groups, like AA or NA, and also continue to see a therapist and psychiatrist.