What Does Dual Diagnosis Mean?

What Does Dual Diagnosis Mean




For the millions of Americans struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, addiction wasn’t a lifestyle choice. Despite the fact that the first time drugs or drink are misused is a voluntary action, the motivations behind that initial step towards addiction can often emanate from mental illness. The desire to self-medicate the distressing symptoms of depression or anxiety has the potential to spiral out of control to a degree that a person becomes dependent on substances as a consequence.

On the other hand, some people may turn to drink or drugs in response to a trauma or significant event that they are struggling to deal with. The loss of a loved one, the breakup of a long-term relationship or traumatic events experienced during military service can all contribute to people becoming addicted to what they perceive as props to cope with life. In these cases, it is possible for prolonged substance abuse to act as a catalyst for mental illness such as panic disorder or PTSD and the individual will develop the symptoms of these conditions.

Whether mental illness was the contributing factor to addiction or vice versa, these cases are referred to as dual diagnosis patients.

How Co-occurring Disorders Affect Each Other

The reason it is so important to identify any mental health conditions present in dual diagnosis patients is that they often work together in a complex dance that requires specialist treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there are several ways of viewing the interplay between two disorders that are present in one patient:

Drugs or alcohol have been used to self-medicate untreated mental health conditions. Although it may be possible to alleviate the symptoms of illnesses such as depression and anxiety, using substances is only a temporary fix and fails to treat the condition itself.

Substances can actually contribute to making the symptoms of mental illness worse due to the interaction in the brain and the central nervous system. This often places individuals in a more vulnerable emotional and psychological state, which in turn can further intensify symptoms.

Even if there is no family history and an individual has no record of mental health problems themselves, prolonged substance abuse carries a high risk of developing mental illness.

What’s Involved in Dual Diagnosis Drug Rehab?

There are several methodologies used to treat people with co-occurring addiction and mental illness including:

Assessment of psychiatric health:  A thorough evaluation is generally one of the first steps in addiction treatment and is used to establish what mental illness a patient is dealing with. At this point in rehab, patients may be prescribed medication in conjunction with counseling to address the illness in isolation of co-occurring addiction.

Integration of addiction rehab: The knowledge gained about a patient from psychological counseling allows therapists to begin working with the patient to overcome their addiction. Because patients with co-occurring conditions are more complex than addicts without mental illness, drug rehab moves at a more deliberate pace than if it were ‘stand-alone’.

Treatment for the mind, body, and spirit: Many addiction treatment programs have holistic therapies available to patients including mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation. This allows patients to learn coping mechanisms for daily stressors and triggers they may face in recovery.

Behavioral modification therapy:  This is generally the last phase of rehab and addresses the compulsive behaviors that caused addiction by modifying responses and reactions to triggers that have the potential to cause a relapse.

Relapse prevention education: When a patient leaves a dual diagnosis treatment center, they are supported by an aftercare program that lasts for as long as they require it. Valuable connections are made during rehab among others dealing with similar issues that can continue to underpin and strengthen effective recovery for many years.

How Effective Is Treatment for Co-Occurring Conditions?

Although patients who have co-occurring conditions have more complex needs than those without addiction and mental illness, it is possible to treat both co-occurring conditions for overall better mental health. The importance of thorough assessment should never be under-estimated in terms of accurately diagnosing when someone is combating two conditions at the same time. With a combination of medical and complementary therapies, patients can go on to live fulfilling lives equipped with all the tools they need to manage symptoms and prevent relapse for a successful life in recovery.

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