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Dual Diagnosis – Teen

Teenagers face a difficult set of challenges. Identity issues, hormonal changes and peer pressures can drive even the most “normal” of teens to seek escape through drug use. When mental illness enters the picture, these challenges increase exponentially.

Dual diagnosis conditions encompass drug addiction as well as psychological disorder. For a teenager struggling with dual diagnosis, the pressures that come with the “teen years” become that much more overwhelming and unmanageable.

Dual diagnosis treatment for teens takes an integrated approach to addressing the unique challenges brought on by addiction and mental illness in the life of a young person. Dual diagnosis treatment, in general, places a heavy emphasis on the importance of coordinating treatment efforts.

Ensuring a teen has the needed tools to overcome the effects of addiction and mental illness in everyday life becomes the overall goal in dual diagnosis treatment. Without needed treatment help, the likely effects on a teen’s daily life, as well is on his or her future outlook, can be devastating.

The Dual Diagnosis Cycle

dual diagnosis help

In dual diagnosis treatment counselors help teenagers work through their substance use and mental health challenges using an integrated treatment approach.

Dual diagnosis conditions involve one or more psychological disorders, coupled with a drug and/or alcohol addiction problem. Psychological disorders commonly associated with dual diagnosis include –

  • Clinical depression
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Eating disorders

Each of these conditions stems from certain ongoing chemical imbalances within the brain. When chemical imbalances persist for long time periods, they affect how the brain works and alter the brain’s overall structure.

Drug and alcohol addictions also create brain chemical imbalances that continue to worsen for as long as a person keeps using drugs. In effect, the combination of addiction and psychological dysfunction only works to offset the brain’s chemical system even more.

Ultimately, the symptoms of one condition work to aggravate the symptoms of the other. This means, ongoing drug abuse will only worsen the severity of a psychological disorder and vice versa. As symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders can be quite distressing, the urge to self-medicate through drugs is even in stronger in someone struggling with dual diagnosis than someone who’s not.

According to the Mental Health Services Research Journal, addiction and mental illness both stem from social influences as well as from biological and social origins. With teenagers, these influences can have long-term effects that alter a teen’s biological, psychological and social development, all of which can have lifelong implications.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Objectives

Dual diagnosis in teens can bring about a range of different symptoms depending on the type of psychological disorder and the type(s) of drug abused. Symptoms may take the form of –

  • Anxiousness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Severe mood swings
  • Substantial changes in weight
  • Mental confusion
  • Anger and aggression
  • Insomnia
  • Careless risk-taking

Dual diagnosis treatment objectives work to help teens develop the types of coping skills needed to identify and manage disorder symptoms while applying healthy coping behaviors. Through ongoing treatment, a teen can replace the mindset that comes with addiction with healthy lifestyle choices, while taking the needed steps to work through any underlying issues that feed psychological distress.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Approach

The brain chemical interactions that result from dual diagnosis can vary from person to person. In effect, these two conditions enter into a complicated relationship that requires a unique and targeted treatment approach.

A dual diagnosis treatment approach combines the interventions used to treat addiction and psychological disorders into a single program. While a teen can receive treatment for both conditions through different programs, it becomes that much harder to coordinate treatment efforts, which is imperative when working with dual diagnosis conditions.

As symptom severity for either condition can greatly affect the outcome of the other condition, managing both sets of symptoms together offers the best chance of a positive outcome. The dual diagnosis treatment approach allows treatment providers to monitor how one type of treatment affects the other and vice versa.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Interventions

The types of interventions used in treating dual diagnosis in teens can vary depending on the severity of the addiction as well as the severity of the psychological disorder. Most, if not all treatment programs, offer a wide spectrum of services in an effort to ensure an integrated treatment outcome. Each teen is assigned a treatment team, with each team member specializing in different areas.

Treatment interventions commonly used include –

  • An extensive assessment and evaluation process
  • Medication treatments
  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Drug education training
  • 12 Step support group work
  • Dual diagnosis education training
  • Crisis intervention services

Medication-Assisted Treatment Options

Medication-assisted treatment options only become necessary in cases of severe addiction and/or severe psychological distress. In both cases, medication therapies help to correct for brain chemical imbalances brought about by addiction and psychological disorder.

As alcohol, opiate and sedative-based drug treatment programs do offer medication-assisted therapies as an option, a teen may well benefit from the physical support these treatments provide. Likewise, teens struggling with overwhelming psychological symptoms will likely require medication-assisted treatment to help ensure ongoing abstinence from drugs, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Medications commonly used include –

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Clonidine
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications

Psychosocial Interventions

As addiction and psychological disorder both produce their respective mindsets and lifestyles, psychosocial treatment interventions make up the bulk of the services offered within a dual diagnosis treatment program. Psychotherapy, group therapy and support group work all work towards helping teens better understand how a dual diagnosis condition affects their lives and the steps they can take to manage the condition.

Psychosocial interventions may also incorporate important people in the teen’s life, such as family, school counselors and teachers into the treatment process. By doing so, treatment providers can better coordinate their treatment efforts with the people that have the greatest influence within a teen’s daily life.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens

Teens struggling with dual diagnosis often live chaotic lives with little to no sense of identity or purpose. Through ongoing dual diagnosis treatment, teens can develop –

  • Healthy interpersonal skills and healthy relationships with others
  • A sense of accountability
  • Better grades in school
  • A healthy self-identity

Considering the degree of disorder that comes with dual diagnosis conditions, the sooner parents get the type of help their teens need the better the treatment outcome.

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