The Most Important Aspects of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

For many people struggling with substance abuse and addiction, mental illness also poses a problem, and the two co-occurring conditions feed off one another. In fact, one condition is often responsible for the development of the other condition. Many times, an individual will have developed an undiagnosed mental disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder. While he’s not taking proper medication, he may find that drinking alcohol or using narcotics helps him feel better. This type of self-medicating is common and it’s what often opens the door to addiction.

While this has always been a common phenomenon, successful dual diagnosis treatment is relatively new. In the past, treating two co-occurring conditions simultaneously wasn’t even a consideration. The individual would have to go through substance abuse treatment first and, once he was clean, he could get therapy and treatment for his mental disorder. The problem with this system was that the individual rarely made it to mental health treatment. Instead, he would have a relapse and start self-medicating soon after being released from an addiction treatment program.

How Are Co-Occurring Conditions Treated Today?

Today, there are many substance abuse and addiction treatment facilities certified in offering dual diagnosis treatment. Their caregivers are trained in offering mental health treatment alongside addiction treatment, so the two conditions can be treated at the same time. In fact, a successful recovery plan involves more than treating both conditions at once. The two co-occurring conditions are treated as parts of the same overriding illness. This approach allows the individual to participate in a fully comprehensive program that addresses how the addiction and mental illness are related.

The process begins with the intake procedure. It’s at this time that the individual is evaluated to determine exactly what his needs are in regard to treatment. Counselors will determine if the individual does suffer from addiction and a co-occurring mental illness. This is a more difficult task than it may seem, because substance abuse can mask the signs of mental illness.

What is Involved in Treatment?

A comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program hinges its success on the ability to start treatment for substance abuse and mental illness at the same time. This means the individual will likely have to go through a detox program first, before starting either type of treatment. Once he is clean and sober, the individual’s treatment plan often begins with counseling. One on one sessions are essential in determining what his needs will be in regard to his addiction treatment and his mental health therapy.

In both types of treatment, the overriding goal is to restore feelings of positive self-esteem and good self-worth. Negative feelings, such as those caused by blame and guilt, are to be avoided. To help reinforce these positive feelings, the individual’s loved ones are often asked to participate in therapy sessions. Parents, spouses or partners, and children are all invited to take part in some sessions.

For each individual, a treatment plan must be customized according to his needs. This is largely due to the fact that not every individual will be suffering from the same mental illness. While many may suffer from depression or anxiety, others may be trying to cope with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any number of illnesses. Therapy must be adapted to treat the specific condition.

In many cases, the individual will best be helped through an inpatient program, where he can be monitored around the clock. In part, this will help protect against an addiction relapse, but it also protects the patient from harm. Continual medical supervision ensures the individual stays safe and healthy throughout treatment. In some cases, the symptoms of withdrawal can pose a health threat. This largely depends on how long the individual has been struggling with addiction, the substances he has been using, current medical conditions, and how severely his mental illness affects him.

How to Identify Someone with Co-Occurring Disorders

While an addiction treatment specialist or a mental health professional is better able to make an official diagnosis, it is possible to identify someone with co-occurring conditions. By watching for certain signs and symptoms, you may be able to recognize that a problem does exist. Even if the individual is suffering from just one condition, identifying the problem is the first step in ensuring they get the help they need.
Behavioral indicators of substance abuse and addiction include:

  • Abandoning family and friends for mysterious new acquaintances
  • Difficulty keeping up with work or school responsibilities
  • Using deception and theft to obtain money for drugs or alcohol
  • Sleeping until late in the day, and staying up late in the evening
  • Repeated attempts to quit using
  • Using larger doses of the substance and increasing frequency of use

The symptoms of mental illness may accompany the signs of addiction. These symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Deliberately seeks seclusion and resists new friendships
  • Experiences delusions, which may be described as believing untrue concepts
  • Hallucinations, which may be hearing or seeing things that don’t exist
  • Persistent feelings of despair or hopelessness
  • Exhibits obsessive or compulsive behavior
  • Cannot maintain friendships, keep an apartment, or hold a job due to behavioral problems
  • Habitually uses drugs or alcohol to manage moods

Treatment Will Be a Challenge

Regardless of what specific mental illness affects the individual, dual diagnosis treatment is never easy or simple. People struggling with mental illness often feel bad about themselves. They may feel despondent, they may be overcome with unjustified guilt, or they may feel persecuted by those around them. Whatever feelings are being stirred up, it’s important to recognize these are intense emotions and they may have helped encourage past substance abuse.

Treatment will be extensive, because the therapist will have to help the individual overcome these feelings. While addiction treatment is relatively brief, mental health therapy often takes longer. Many people recovering from co-occurring conditions must continue participating in addiction group therapy meetings and one on one mental health therapy sessions throughout their lives. This is necessary to prevent relapses, as well as to protect against a worsening mental illness. Successful long-term recovery means applying the practices learned in treatment and continuing to participate in outpatient therapy.

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with co-occurring conditions, calling for help is an important first step. Contact SJRP to speak with one of their admission counselors about the situation. Their experienced staff can guide you through the initial consultation, which will help you learn more about your condition. Once you understand your conditions, you’ll be one step closer to getting the treatment you need.

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