Fri. May 20th, 2022

Dual Diagnosis: Treating Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

If left untreated, they can become negative influences on a person’s recovery, lending to potential triggers for relapse. Effective treatment engages modalities that address both substance use and mental health disorders, with methods including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and mindfulness and stress management practices. The Treehouse is poised to deliver you, or your loved one, this compassionate and in-depth care.

A dual diagnosis is sometimes referred to as a co-occurring disorder and requires certain types of treatment to address both issues. In many instances, these accompanying conditions may have led to the substance abuse, aggravated it or even caused it.

Because of these connections, it is direly important that an individual receives personalized, dual diagnosis treatment that addresses these specific concerns. Not only will this treatment aid a person in overcoming their addiction, but it will also help them to protect themselves from relapse.

What Is A Dual Diagnosis?

Most commonly mental health disorders, these may also include instances of trauma or the presence of a dual addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrationgrants us perspective on the prevalence of these, noting that in 2014, over a third (7.9 million) of the 20.2 million adults with a substance use disorder had a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Dual Diagnosis- Treating Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders_co-occuring mental health

Common dual diagnosis conditions include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

It is possible that a person has more than one co-occurring disorder, including several mental health concerns, such as borderline personality disorder, accompanied by anxiety and depression.

How Do Dual Diagnosis Concerns Affect Addiction And Treatment?

It is important to realize that though often linked, depending on a person’s specific situation, either substance abuse or mental health disorders may occur first, as noted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Dual diagnosis concerns are prevalent within addiction. In these circumstances, they both frequently change the face of addiction, the negative behaviors attributed to it and the subsequent treatment.

Substance abuse has the heavy-handed potential to aggravate existing mental health disorders or create them, due to the way drugs and alcohol change a person’s biochemistry. Thusly, as a person strives to self-medicate these concerns, the drugs or alcohol often worsen the symptoms, leading a person to use more and creating a vicious spiral into addiction. On the other hand, substance abuse may lead to a co-occurring disorder in certain circumstances. If left untreated, these mental health disorders or trauma may serve to create stress or triggers that could cause a person to relapse.

Despite these associations, dual diagnoses do not always come about as a result of one another. In addition to these connections, research also illustrates another potential cause. Both substance abuse and mental health disorders share common risk factors, including genetic or brain weaknesses and/or experiences with situations causing emotional distress or instances of trauma at a young age, as explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

How is a Dual Diagnoses Treated?

Within individualized and holistic care, treatment is adapted at to a person’s unique needs, including the presence of any co-occurring disorders. These realities help to inform and shape the way the treatment staff creates a person’s addiction treatment plan, ensuring you or your family member the best chance at healing and balancing the body, mind and soul. Treatment of co-occurring disorders seeks to do several things, including increasing a person’s awareness and commitment to both acceptance and change. It also teaches coping and interpersonal skills and aids in creating a solid relapse prevention plan.

Dual Diagnosis- Treating Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders_therapist medications

Commonly within a dual diagnosis program, a therapist may utilize various medications, behavioral therapies or a combination of both to obtain a drug-free state. The following are the specific ways they may employ these methods:

Medication-assisted therapies

While certain medications may be used to aid an individual during a medical detox, to alleviate and reduce uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal, treatment staff may continue or introduce other medications once treatment begins to enhance the therapeutic value of treatment. Also called medication-assisted treatment, these may include a variety of non-addictive medications. If a person suffers from anxiety, depression or other mood disorders, they may be prescribed medications to address and balance these concerns.

Motivational Interviewing

Often used as a directive and pretreatment for other therapies, motivational interviewing the therapist or counselor helps a client by reflective and empathetic listening to discern areas of their life that warrant change, while developing the self-efficacy that is necessary to implement these changes.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, imparts an individual with a skill set to help them overcome and combat cravings. It also aids them in uprooting negative and detrimental mindsets and feelings in the context of how they shape their behaviors. Instead, a person learns to create more positive thoughts and emotions to base beneficial behaviors upon.

Dialectical behavioral therapy

Dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, was actually created to treat what may often be a dual diagnosis itself—borderline personality disorder. Since its inception, DBT has been shown to not only be an effective treatment modality for this mental disorder but numerous others, as well as becoming a viable and productive method for treating substance use disorders. This behavioral therapy leads a person towards developing and integrating mindfulness, acceptance and change, as a means to better sever ties to maladaptive behaviors. This therapy accomplishes this, and also creates more positive behaviors, by leading a person towards learning distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. Together, these things increase a person’s confidence and their ability in addressing and solving problems in their life which may create triggers or temptation to abuse substances.

Mindfulness and stress management

Substance abuse and mental health disorders are both often aggravated by a person being out of touch with themselves and their innate needs while succumbing to life’s many stressors. Thorough treatment engages a person in a way that cultivates a better self-awareness while addressing the myriad ways that stress may crop up within a person’s life. In integrating these two, a person is better adept at implementing coping skills to overcome moments that might otherwise prove to be a trigger linked to relapse and a return to substance abuse.

Combined, these and other treatment modalities can create a landscape of healing, hope, acceptance and change, enabling you to find a better, drug-free life.


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