Dual diagnosis treatment is an integrated, coordinated approach to substance abuse and mental health interventions for individuals with co-occurring disorders. This means that multidisciplinary teams of clinicians are working together under one roof to provide client-centered, seamless services ranging from holistic therapy to social skills training with a consistent approach.
According to a study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 23 million Americans suffer from some form of a co-occurring disorder associated with a substance use disorder (National Institutes of Health, 2015). These comorbid disorders are considered dual diagnosis disorders, and the survey also reveals that the majority of these disorders are left untreated.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has found that 45% of people in the United States have a dual diagnosis for co-occurring addiction and mental illness. People who have mental illnesses are twice as likely as the rest of the population to engage in substance abuse. At the same time, people who struggle with substance abuse are also more likely to develop a mental illness or behavioral disorder. It’s an accepted fact that mental illness can lead to substance abuse, and that addiction can cause other mental illnesses.
Dual diagnosis is far more common now than it used to be. At one point, mental illness and addiction would be treated as separate conditions. A person with depression or bipolar disorder would be referred to a mental health facility. Someone addicted to alcohol or drugs would be referred to an addiction rehab center. The problem with this approach is both conditions often did not receive adequate treatment.
For example, a patient in addiction rehab might be discharged as not responding to treatment due to their mental disorder. Meanwhile, a person in a mental health facility might be prescribed medication to treat their disorder, but their addiction to drugs or alcohol ends up interfering.
It’s easy to see why both conditions are now treated at the same time as co-occurring disorders at most addiction treatment centers.
Co-occurring disorders of addiction and mental health issues often have overlapping symptoms. Only a dual diagnosis professional can make a true determination on the nature of the mental health issue occurring alongside addiction. However, there are some questions you can ask yourself or a loved one if you suspect the presence of co-occurring disorders.
• Can you remember the last time you felt happy or satisfied with life without using drugs or alcohol? Think back before you started using drugs or alcohol. Were you happy or unhappy? If you can’t remember being happy before substance abuse, then you may have an underlying mental illness.
• Did you start using drugs or alcohol to overcome negative feelings? If you started using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety or depression, this may indicate the presence of an underlying mental health issue.
• Have you experienced trauma in the past? Trauma, especially in your early years, increases your risk for mental illness and addiction. Trauma alters brain chemistry and causes people to experience undue stress on a daily basis.
• Do you have a history of mental illness in your family? If you have family members who have been diagnosed with mental illness, you’re more at risk. All mental illnesses have a genetic aspect along with other factors.
Untreated dual diagnosis disorders usually make each other worse and make treatment more difficult.
Clients are often treated for one disorder while the other one goes undetected. Several major factors contribute to the treatment of one without the other:
A common question for dual diagnosis treatment is: Which one of the co-occurring disorders should be treated first? Addiction is a mental illness, but often the underlying causes of it are due to another mental health issue. Many people with undiagnosed mental health issues turn to substance abuse as a form of self-medication. The substance abuse eventually leads to addiction.
For example, someone with anger issues or high anxiety might decide to use opiates as they have a calming and sedative effect. Someone with depression might choose stimulant drugs like cocaine or amphetamines in order to feel more energetic and alive. These people might feel like they’re helping themselves by countering their symptoms. Unfortunately, addiction to drugs or alcohol eventually makes these symptoms worse.
Mental health and addiction are ultimately two sides of the same coin. Integrative therapy after a dual diagnosis means that mental health is addressed during and after physical treatments for substance abuse, such as detox. Even when a person’s body is freed of the addictive substance, the underlying reasons for the addiction still remain. If the underlying reasons include undiagnosed mental illness, then that is the next step of treatment.
Sometimes people become addicted to drugs or alcohol without prior mental illness, but they may still need therapy to address the trauma or stress that led them to substance abuse.
At dual diagnosis treatment centers like New Method Wellness, individuals with substance use disorders receive client-centered integrated treatment in the context of their co-occurring mental health disorder. Listed below are some common treatment approaches used for various comorbidities:
Dual diagnosis treatment has a myriad of benefits. When both comorbid disorders are taken into account, this treatment model reduces the likelihood of homelessness, suicide, premature death and incarceration (SAMHSA, 2016). Not only does it reduce negative consequences of under-treated disorders, it also lowers the cost of treatment and optimizes outcomes. A team of interdisciplinary licensed professionals often work together to assist clients in recovery. Addiction therapists work with social workers who are often on the front lines working with persons suffering from substance use disorders. Through a collaborative network, social workers refer clients to the best dual diagnosis treatment centers for further treatment. (3)
Handpicked by Dr. Phil, New Method Wellness is a premier dual diagnosis addiction treatment center dually accredited by The Joint Commission and CARF International. It has been singled out as one of the best drug and alcohol rehab centers in America, offering a unique 3:1 staff-to-client ratio that pairs every client with two therapists instead of one. At New Method Wellness, we add another dimension to dual diagnosis treatment, and that is the integration of holistic therapy, such as massage/acupuncture therapy, equine therapy, and art therapy. As addiction therapists and substance abuse counselors work with clients to treat the substance use disorder and the co-occurring illness associated with it, holistic therapy adds meaning to life after treatment and sustains long-term recovery. Our 3:1 staff-to-client ratio ensures client success after treatment, as evidenced by our Extended Aftercare program.
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