The Role of Dual Diagnosis in Addiction Treatment

Many people don’t realize that addiction is often rooted in mental health disorders. When treating an addiction, it’s important to simultaneously treat any co-occurring conditions. When a mental health disorder and addiction are treated together, the process is known as dual diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis is integral to long-term wellness, because addiction and mental health are closely connected.

The Link Between Mental Health and Addiction

There’s an undeniable link between mental health conditions and addiction. In some studies, more than half of those individuals struggling with addiction also struggle with a mental illness. In addition, half of those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness have had trouble with addiction. Whether mental illness is the cause or a result of addiction, there’s no doubt that these two conditions are intertwined.

Mental health concerns and addiction can be thought of as a chicken-and-egg scenario. In some cases, it’s the mental health condition that appears first. This causes individuals to seek relief, often in the form of drugs or alcohol. Conversely, individuals who struggle with addiction may develop mental health conditions that arise precisely because of their addictions.

Why Dual Diagnosis is Necessary

For anyone who suffers from both a mental health illness and addiction, dual diagnosis should never be optional. This treatment is necessary in order to help patients solve two major problems. Isolating the illnesses and treating them separately won’t be as effective, and it could limit the success of patients in rehab.

Patients who are diagnosed with a mental illness can’t fully benefit from rehab if they are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia while receiving treatment. Treating addiction patients with mental health problems may be a waste of time if their mental health isn’t properly addressed. Why? Because the patients won’t be able to absorb new information properly or create a realistic plan for recovery and relapse prevention.

Similarly, patients who are receiving therapy, treatment or medication for their mental health disorder can’t make progress if they are also battling an addiction to drugs or alcohol. An addiction alters brain chemistry, so it will be impossible to tell whether treatment is actually successful until patients are able to maintain their sobriety.

Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest that both mental health problems and addiction can arise from the same source. For example, patients with childhood trauma in their past, or who have served in the military, might be dealing with PTSD. Simultaneously, these experiences might be driving their addictions. By getting to the root of the problem and addressing it head on, patients may be able to resolve both their mental health concerns and their addictions.

Identifying the Need for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

In addition to understanding the importance of dual diagnosis treatment, it’s vital that the patients actually receive the dual diagnosis to begin with. In some cases, mental health issues can go undetected, which can be problematic throughout the addiction recovery process.

To start, it’s important for patients to receive a thorough assessment or evaluation before being admitted into a rehab program for addiction. This assessment shouldn’t focus exclusively on physical health or the pattern of addiction, but should include key questions that can help identify mental health problems. It’s also integral that admissions staff are trained and familiar with mental health disorders, helping them to identify and diagnose key issues that need to be treated.

Identifying the need for dual diagnosis can be improved by knowing which mental health disorders are most common and which are closely connected to addiction. Depression may be one of the most common mental health conditions linked to addiction, but it’s far from the only one. Other common mental health conditions that need to be monitored include things like anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD.

What to Expect After Receiving a Dual Diagnosis

The only way to receive dual diagnosis treatment and break free from both mental health disorders and addiction is to seek professional help at a reputable rehab facility. When patients receive a dual diagnosis, they can expect treatment to include a number of different elements. Each combines to transform patients into healthy, sober individuals.

A key part of dual diagnosis treatment is receiving 24-hour care. Medical supervision is necessary as those with mental health concerns may be more volatile, and addiction recovery is an already challenging time. In addition, patients may need to take certain medicines that alleviate their symptoms and restore chemical balance in the brain.

In a residential rehab setting, which is considered to be ideal for dual diagnosis treatment, patients will also be able to foster relationships with staff, therapists and other patients. They will have accountability around the clock, individual and group therapies and access to holistic and alternative therapies that can contribute to recovery.

Tailoring Dual Diagnosis Treatment to the Disorder

Often, the kind of treatment required will depend both on the addiction and the specific type of mental disorder. Individuals with an anxiety disorder, for example, may benefit from small group counseling or even one-on-one therapies if the thought of large groups makes them uncomfortable and unable to focus on the key aspects of recovery.

Those with depression may benefit from specific therapies that boost self-esteem, or they may need antidepressants that can lift the fog. Of course, it’s important for physicians prescribing these medications to understand any risks of addiction to prevent any improper use of the medicine. Skill and fitness-based therapies, such as yoga therapy or art therapy, can be helpful in developing confidence and making progress.

Personality disorders, which can include narcissism, histrionic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, often benefit from dialectical behavioral therapy. These individual therapy sessions target behavioral changes without confrontation or negativity, which can inhibit progress and improvement.

When mental health and addiction are simultaneously present, patients need dual diagnosis treatment. Isolating either mental health or addiction at the risk of the other factor can lead to greater problems down the road. The treatment of co-occurring disorders is vital in helping patients overcome illness successfully, and this treatment can be made available in many respected rehab facilities.