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Dual Diagnosis

treating co-occurring disorders

Also known as having co-occurring disorders, someone with dual diagnosis is affected by both mental health and substance use disorders.

When you suffer from a co-occurring condition such as a mental health problem and a substance use disorder the condition is formerly known as dual diagnosis. While it’s never an easy task to pinpoint the exact cause of a substance abuse problem, the task becomes even more difficult to understand when there is a co-occurring mental illness such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or another illness further clouding the spectrum. Despite the challenges that are faced when suffering from dual diagnosis, with proper treatment and supportive care, you can overcome the struggles and get your life back on track.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a condition in which there are multiple disorders affect an individual including usually a mental health condition and a substance abuse disorder. For instance, if you are addicted to alcohol and you also suffer from anxiety or depression then you will be diagnosed with dual diagnosis, an instance in which two different and distinct disorders require treatment and help. Dual diagnosis can be difficult to pinpoint and equally challenging to treat because it’s hard to determine if one condition is caused by another or which condition was present first. Sometimes, anxiety or depression is the direct result of abusing drugs or alcohol; but in other situations, anxiety or depression may have been present prior to drug or alcohol use and in fact, may have even been the reason why the individual started using drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating the mental illness. Regardless of what came first, mental illness or substance abuse, both tend to make the problems at hand worse as they interact with one another affecting the individual in various negative ways. According to Medline Plus, someone who is suffering from dual diagnosis must receive treatment for both conditions in order to fully recover. Unfortunately, many conditions go overlooked or are not treated properly in the early stages and this can make recovery a long, challenging and overall difficult road for the individual. In order for treatment of a dual diagnosis case to be deemed effective, the individual must stop using drugs or alcohol and must also receive proper treatment and care for his or her mental health problems.

Examples of Co-Occuring Disorders

Dual Diagnosis, also called informally co-occurring disorders, can be present in many different situations. Some of the more common examples of co-occurring disorders include:

  • an alcoholic suffering from panic disorder
  • an alcoholic suffering from depression
  • a drug addict suffering from psychosis
  • a drug addict suffering from OCD

While there is no limit to the potential combinations of dual diagnosis that may occur, it is very common in the treatment setting for patients to suffer from similar situations of dual diagnosis. For instance, depression and alcoholism, anxiety and alcoholism or similar situations with drug abuse and anxiety or depression are very common in the treatment field. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an estimated 50% of all people suffering from a mental illness also abuse drugs or alcohol. Dual diagnosis is clearly a prominent problem in those who are already suffering from some type of mental health disorder.

Becoming Aware of Dual Diagnosis

You may not recognize a case of dual diagnosis right away in someone you love or care about but there are some tell-tale signs that there is more than just a mental health condition or substance abuse problem to blame. Even a professional may require additional time in diagnosing and treating dual diagnosis so if you don’t spot it right away, don’t be disappointed in yourself. With substance abuse comes strong denial that can complication matters even when mental and physical health is on your side. Denial is a very common side effect of someone who is suffering from a substance abuse problem and is often hard to overshadow. Likewise, denial is also very common in those who are suffering from some kind of a mental illness such as depression or psychosis. As such, denial presents a number of challenges in recognizing dual diagnosis. Consider the following potential signs that there is a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder that requires professional treatment:

  • there is a history of mental illness or substance abuse in the family
  • there is a history of mental illness or substance abuse in the individual
  • there is a strong sensitivity to the use of substances such as drugs or alcohol
  • there is a history of depression, anxiety or heightened mental complications with the use of drugs or alcohol
  • anxiety or depression linger on even when drugs or alcohol are not being used and have not been used for a prolonged period of time
  • there have been past cases of treatment for substance abuse or mental illness

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Rehab centers that treat dual diagnosis recognize the delicate need to treat both the mental illness and the substance abuse disorder using an integrated approach to treatment that provide simultaneous therapy for both conditions. Treatment can be challenging both for the individual and for the treatment professional providing the supportive care but there is hope! Regardless of how the substance abuse began or whether there was a history of mental illness prior to the substance abuse, both conditions must be properly and effectively treated in order to provide the individual with the best chance for recovery. Treatment for dual diagnosis will likely include:

  • combined efforts to help the individual stabilize both mentally and physically
  • therapy and counseling to help guide the individual
  • medication for the treatment of the mental illness should it be severe enough to cause need for continued care
  • support groups for both substance abuse and for mental illness
  • shared decision making between the individual and the therapy provider
  • education that includes strategies for coping with addiction and mental illness as well as methods of strengthening relationships for improved chances of healthy living post treatment

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, various treatment programs exist to help those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder and a mental illness. Many licensed professionals are able to provide treatment both for addiction and for mental illness at the same time offering you advanced approaches to treatment, recovery and care.

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