Dual diagnosis is an innovation in addiction recovery that was developed in the 1990s to deal with people experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder. Many addicts also have an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety which may have pre-existed addiction or developed as a result. People who are suffering from two concurrent conditions such as depression and addiction, they are known as dual diagnosis patients.
What’s Different About Dual Diagnosis Treatment?
When someone has addiction issues and they are also coping with a mental illness, the approach used to be to separate the two conditions and treat them in isolation. However, this proved ineffective as when there are two co-occurring conditions, they interact with each other making it necessary to treat both at the same time as part of a single treatment program.
It is now relatively easy to find a rehab center that deals with the specific requirements of dual diagnosis cases and our understanding has improved considerably. Nevertheless, according to the Office of Applied Studies, only 12% of the 4 million dual diagnosis patients in America receive treatment for both conditions. Despite this poor take up of dual diagnosis treatment, there are plenty of specialist programs available that address both addiction issues and any underlying mental illness during recovery.
It is important that specialist care includes:
- Treatment for mental health and substance use disorders in parallel, delivered by a specially trained medic
- Psychotherapeutic meds such as antidepressants to treat co-occurring disorders
- Supportive therapy to rebuild self-esteem and self-confidence and replace negative feelings and thoughts
- An inclusive treatment strategy that involves partners, children and other members of the household.
Before 1990, it was widely believed that addiction was entirely separate from mental health and so patients with two concurrent conditions were forced to choose which to treat first. Because of the complex dance between addiction and mental illness and the way the two conditions feed each other, treating one in isolation is ineffective. For example, someone with depression and alcoholism would be expected to go through detox and be treated for addiction before work could be done to address the depression.
Getting Correctly Diagnosed
Many people find getting a dual diagnosis comes as a relief, particularly if they have been living with an undiagnosed mental health condition for a while. When someone is in the grip of an illness that negatively directs their moods, thoughts and feelings, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by hopelessness. When this mental illness is compounded by substance abuse disorder or addiction, it can be very difficult for individuals to see that there is help available to them and they can often avoid seeking help at all.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction and Co-Occurring Mental Illness
An official diagnosis is achieved by a physician or mental health practitioner although many people will recognize their symptoms as indicating that something’s not quite right. The red flags that someone is struggling to cope with addiction and co-occurring mental illness are as follows:
- Friends and family are abandoned in favor of new people or activities
- A person begins to struggle to keep up with studies or work
- Lies are told to conceal addictive behavior
- Sufferers have a tendency to stay awake all night and sleep through the day
- Attempts will be made to quit but relapses will be frequent
- They may experience withdrawal symptoms
As with all patients in addiction treatment, there is no single treatment option that works for everyone. Co-occurring conditions are extremely complex and it is essential to understand the origins of both the mental illness and addiction. Some people may have started to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to alleviate the distressing symptoms of mental illness, whereas others may have developed the symptoms as a direct result of them abusing substances or alcohol.
The important thing to remember is that there are now plenty of treatment options for dual diagnosis patients because of our better understanding of the interplay between co-occurring conditions. A dual diagnosis treatment center will carry out a thorough assessment of each patient in order to establish the nature of the underlying mental illness. Then a treatment program will be devised that addresses both addiction and mental illness at the same time as part of a continuum of treatment in rehab.