What is a Dual Diagnosis?

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Dual diagnosis is a term that describes when a person experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder at the same time. This situation is also referred to as a co-occurring disorder. A dual diagnosis is not a unique diagnosis, but a specific combination of diagnoses.

Examples of mental health conditions that may be a part of a co-occurring disorder can include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and codependency. These and other mental illnesses can cause a person to turn to substances in an attempt to self-medicate and escape the distress of their untreated condition. Unfortunately, a person’s condition almost always worsens when substance abuse comes into play, which ultimately makes the recovery process even more challenging. The journey for treatment and recovery can be difficult when a person is facing a dual diagnosis, but it is not impossible. 

Knowing Your Odds

In 2018, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that 9.2 million U.S. adults struggle with both a mental illness and a substance use disorder. A person who struggles with a mental illness is twice as likely to misuse or abuse alcohol and drugs compared to a person without a mental illness. NAMI reports that the more severe a person’s mental illness symptoms, the higher the possibility that the person will start abusing drugs and/or alcohol.

Assessing Possible Symptoms

There are many combinations of mental health issues and substance abuse that fall under the umbrella of dual diagnosis, meaning that the symptoms of each individual situation may vary widely. Mental health clinics are now using alcohol and drug screening tools that help identify individuals who may be at risk. Some notable symptoms of substance abuse disorder include:

  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Establishing dependency

Considering the plethora of mental illnesses that can afflict a person, the symptoms to watch for will also vary accordingly. If you or someone you know show the following signs, they may be struggling with some form of mental illness:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Confused or irrational thinking
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

Treatment Definitively Works

Research continues to show that integrated intervention is the most effective form of treatment for anyone suffering from a dual diagnosis. This approach allows you to receive treatment for both your mental illness and your substance abuse disorder, while also learning how each condition affects the other. Having to battle a mental illness or an addiction is challenging enough on its own. Once you have to battle both of them simultaneously, the challenge can seem overwhelming to tackle alone. Of course, finding the right treatment is going to be different for each individual. At times, you may need a combination of treatments to succeed, and that is both normal and encouraged. Effective forms of treatment can include:

  • Psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy in which a person works with a licensed mental health counselor or therapist. CBT helps a person become aware of their inaccurate perceptions and helps them identify negative thinking. This method of psychotherapy is often used to help a person view challenging situations more clearly, while also equipping them with successful ways to respond. Other forms of CBT include Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is used to help patients who exhibit suicidal tendencies and other self-destructive behaviors. This method helps individuals to cope with stress in healthier ways, and assists in improving their relationships. 

  • Detoxification

A huge hurdle for people with a substance use disorder is the challenge of reducing their cravings for drugs and alcohol. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) allows a person to take medications which reduce withdrawal effects and cravings, under the supervision of trained medical staff. Although this approach is not recommended for everyone, weaning a person off substances such as opiates this way can allow for a more comfortable withdrawal process. 

  • Inpatient Rehabilitation

Some people who are experiencing a dual diagnosis may benefit from an inpatient rehabilitation facility. These treatment centers provide patients with medical and mental health care around the clock. 

  • Self-Help and Support Groups

When dealing with a dual diagnosis, a person can feel isolated while facing numerous challenges. Having a support group can help alleviate this discomfort through the sharing of hardships. Support groups are also great resources for connecting with referrals or other recovery programs, and can help you form healthy friendships with people who are encouraging and accepting.

Approaching the Healing Process Head-On

When choosing the best type of treatment for yourself, it is crucial to remember that the most effective treatment for anyone struggling with a dual diagnosis is a treatment that integrates care for both diagnoses. This means that each condition needs to be considered primary, and should receive intervention at the same time. NAMI states that the idea that medical professions cannot treat one diagnosis until the other diagnosis has vanished is outdated. Current research indicates that both issues must be addressed. By choosing positive, evidence-based treatments that address both substance abuse and mental health disorders simultaneously, you can find your path to a healthier, more promising future.

9.2 million adults in the U.S. struggle with both a mental illness and a substance use disorder. You are not alone, nor do you need to struggle alone. There are effective treatments available that can help you with co-occurring disorders. Once you are able to find the treatment for your unique dual diagnosis, you can start to feel like you’re taking your life back. If you are unsure whether you are struggling with more than one disorder, your best option is to seek treatment from a trained mental health professional who can personalize your plan of action. Data shows that prolonged substance use increases one’s underlying risks of developing mental illness. By finding others who understand and accept what you are going through, you can relieve overwhelming feelings of isolation. Everlast Recovery Centers is here to help you along the way. Call us at 866-DETOX-25 to learn more.

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