The Role of Dual Diagnosis in Addiction Treatment

When patients are in need of addiction treatment for drugs or alcohol, it’s easy to focus exclusively on the substance abuse. In many cases, however, it’s just as important to give attention to co-occurring mental health issues.

It’s very common for those with mental health problems to begin struggling with addiction, and just as common for those who are addicted to various substances to begin experiencing mental health problems. Therefore, the best addiction treatment will be one that understands the role of dual diagnosis and the clear link between mental health and addiction recovery.

Determining if Dual Diagnosis is Necessary

The first step creating a treatment plan that deals with mental health and addiction is determining whether dual diagnosis truly is necessary. In some cases, patients who are struggling with mental health concerns are only doing so because these symptoms are a side effect of addiction. For instance, patients addicted to strong sedatives may be depressed, but that could be a common symptom of the drug rather than a pre-existing concern.

To determine whether patients are eligible candidates for dual diagnosis treatment, the first step is a complete evaluation upon admission to a detox program. However, this shouldn’t be the only time dual diagnosis is analyzed. After detox, and before rehab begins, is the optimal time to take a closer look at the mental health of patients. Since there won’t be any physical symptoms of drug or alcohol use to contend with at this stage, it will be easier to pinpoint any standalone mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Getting a Comprehensive View of Health and Recovery

Patients who begin down the road to recovery are often focused on one goal—getting sober. Achieving and maintaining sobriety is an admirable objective, but focusing on the physical symptoms alone may not be enough. A more comprehensive approach to wellness means taking mental health into consideration as well. Often, that means pinpointing and treating mental health problems in addition to addictive behaviors.

There are many different theories on what links mental health disorders and the frequency of addictive behaviors. Some research suggests that those struggling with mental health disorders, and who aren’t getting the medical help they need, are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self medication. Of course, suffering from addiction is likely to exacerbate the symptoms, making the situation worse.

Conversely, addiction itself can lead to mental health disorders. When individuals become addicted to drugs or alcohol, they can experience feelings like guilt or shame, which can in turn create internal stress and serious mental health problems. In environments where addiction is common, individuals may also be at higher risk for crimes like rape or physical abuse, and that can further increase the likelihood of trauma.

How Dual Diagnosis Can Prevent Relapse

One of the primary objectives of any rehab program is to help patients prevent a relapse. A relapse is anytime that the addictive substance is used again after treatment, and it’s a common problem. However, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of relapse, one of the most effective being dual diagnosis treatment.

A few common triggers for relapse are things like stress, guilt, shame, unhappiness or anger. Many mental health professionals will immediately recognize that these are common emotions among those who also struggle with things like PTSD, anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression.

When patients are dealing with the effects of a mental health problem, relapse is far more likely. When patients receive the right treatment for their mental health challenges, however, they will be more cognitively aware, better prepared and generally more able to fight back against cravings. Dual diagnosis treatment can help patients realize that staying sober is truly the best choice in the long run.

Treating Addiction and Mental Health Disorders Simultaneously

When medical professionals at addiction treatment centers know that patients require attention for both their addictive behavior and their mental health, they can offer simultaneous treatment. Often, this involves some form of prescription medication. Certain medications can lessen or even eliminate the symptoms of mental health problems, such as anxiety. When patients have resolved their mental health issues, they may find that they are no longer as emotionally reliant on their addictive substance of choice.

There are also a number of behavioral therapies that can be effective in treating both addiction and mental health disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance, seeks to alter behaviors and make positive changes that benefit patients. Dialectical behavioral therapy emphasizes the value of self and helps patients see their worth and why staying sober is something they deserve. Group therapy can also be effective in limiting feelings of isolation and helping patients to understand there are many other people who share their emotions and their experiences.

Revealing the Underlying Causes

Mental health disorders and addiction can be linked through underlying causes, and in some cases triggers may be partially to blame for both. Past trauma, and in particular PTSD, may be the root of some problems. Children who were victims of assault, for example, could grow up with mental health disorders as well as feelings of inadequacy. Or, they may wish to stop reliving painful memories.

In these cases, drug or alcohol abuse is a way for patients with mental health problems to seek peace. In reality, of course, addiction rarely solves a problem, and usually only adds to it. Often, patients with both mental health disorders and problems with addiction can undergo therapy that confronts underlying causes and helps tackle both issues at the same time. EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, has shown to be effective for this purpose.

Dual diagnosis is integral for patients in need of addiction treatment who also have mental health concerns. By treating both issues simultaneously, with the goal of comprehensive health, patients are more likely to achieve lasting sobriety and more likely to find happiness, health and fulfillment in daily life.