What is Dual Diagnosis and How Can it Benefit My Recovery?

It is rare that addiction develops in a vacuum. Often, addiction is a result of other factors, just some of which can include psychological or behavioral conditions. During addiction treatment, dual diagnosis therapy can play a role. Learn more about dual diagnosis treatment and the benefits it can offer for your recovery.

Defining Dual Diagnosis

The basic definition of dual diagnosis is when patients can be diagnosed with two conditions at the same time. In the context of addiction treatment, at least one of those conditions will be an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The second condition is often mental illness or a mental health behavioral issue.

It is important to understand the link between mental health and addiction. While there are many potential factors that can lead to addiction, mental health is one of the biggest. In fact, more than half of all those people who struggle with addiction also have a mental health concern.

Dual diagnosis treatment is the idea that both conditions should be treated at the same time. This is in stark contrast to what is known as sequential treatment. In the 1980s and earlier, sequential treatment was the preferred treatment method. It involved treating the addiction first and then addressing mental health afterward.

Today, we know that it makes more sense to treat both co-occurring conditions at the same time. Since they are inextricably linked, separating them is not advantageous. Most of the best addiction treatment programs now offer dual diagnosis treatment for patients who need it.

The Typical Process of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is slightly different for every patient. After all, each patient will have unique psychological concerns, addictions and medical history. However, there is a typical process that all patients will go through. This includes an initial assessment which may indicate a particular therapy and helps guide the treatment plan.

The beginning of dual diagnosis treatment is always an assessment. This is an evaluation to determine more about the individual patient. It will almost certainly include some kind of physical assessment and medical checkup.

Then, the evaluation can focus on psychological health. Interviews and observations can reveal mental disorders that may need to be addressed. Just some of the potential issues treated in dual diagnosis programs can include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Multiple personality disorder

With a better understanding of the patient, psychological treatment can be integrated into recovery. In some cases, psychological support will begin in detox. In many other cases, patients will complete detox and then incorporate psychological treatment during continuing inpatient or outpatient rehab.

Types of Dual Diagnosis Treatment Available

In many respects, dual diagnosis treatment will be identical to any other addiction treatment program. All will include individual therapy as well as group therapy. If patients are in an inpatient or intensive rehab program, then most days will have a set routine and plenty of structure.

However, dual diagnosis will place an emphasis on individual therapy. This might include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, pharmacological therapy, trauma therapy and life skills therapy.

Behavioral therapy is, as the name suggests, a way to change behavior. Both dialectical and cognitive behavioral therapy are widely used methods of changing dangerous or unhealthy behaviors. Many patients who struggle with conditions like anxiety or depression need to learn how to change the way they respond to emotions and how they react to situations in life.

Many patients can trace their mental health or addiction problems back to a history of trauma. In these cases, trauma therapy can be a way to bring up and then resolve past trauma. Trauma might include witnessing a crime, being a victim of abuse or serving in the military overseas and struggling with a resulting post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pharmacological therapy can also be a key component of dual diagnosis treatment. Not all patients will need prescription medication to handle mental health concerns, but some do. Administering prescription medications while aware of addiction risks can make the process much easier for everyone involved.

Dual Diagnosis Can Identify Causes of Addiction

One of the biggest advantages of dual diagnosis treatment is that it can help identify the root causes of addiction. Often, addiction stems from a history of trauma or from mental illness. This can happen whether or not patients are aware of it. During treatment, these causes can be identified and addressed once and for all.

For example, some patients might have experienced childhood trauma. They might be blocking out this trauma. Unfortunately, that trauma might be what caused internal stress, turmoil and a predilection toward addiction. Through dual diagnosis treatment, the trauma can be addressed, resolved and managed.

Dual Diagnosis Can Prevent Relapse

Relapse is arguably the biggest threat to addiction recovery. Unfortunately, lingering mental health conditions can often be what causes a relapse. Through dual diagnosis treatment, relapse rates go down.

If addiction is treated, but issues like anxiety, depression and trauma remain, then true recovery hasn’t been reached. In times of stress, or when mental illness reappears, addiction may be the only way people know how to cope.

During dual diagnosis treatment, patients are shown how to come up with effective coping mechanisms. Plus, their symptoms are better managed. Together, this makes it easier to prevent relapse and easier to stay on track to lifelong recovery.

Incorporating Dual Diagnosis Treatment Into a Comprehensive Recovery Plan

Dual diagnosis treatment isn’t a standalone approach to complete addiction recovery. It works best when combined with a range of other treatment methods and strategies.

First, patients will need to complete detox. After working through withdrawal in a medically supervised environment, patients will be ready to get serious about recovery. Patients will only be able to focus and think rationally once detox is complete.

Next comes rehab. This can be an intensive outpatient or inpatient program and it should include structure and routine with plenty of therapy sessions each day.

For as many as half of all addiction patients, dual diagnosis treatment can be beneficial. Dual diagnosis can get to the heart of addiction, encourage lifelong recovery and prevent relapse.