According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as many as 40% of people struggling with addiction ALSO have a mental health disorder (and this is only counting those that have been properly diagnosed). This combination of a mental disorder, underlying trauma, and/or addiction is referred to having a “co-occurring disorder.” For a program to treat both, they need licensed clinicians on staff and these are referred to as “dual diagnosis” programs.
Addiction is often merely a symptom of underlying mental issues or past trauma. Because most addiction treatment programs do not have the trained or licensed master’s level clinicians capable of diagnosing and treating co-occurring disorders, many people will cycle through rehab after rehab, never getting the real help that they need.
So when someone finally gets into a program that treats both, it’s often like opening a window into another world where the program actually starts to work. When dual diagnosis treatment is combined with evidence-based care, lasting recovery is often achieved.
Once you’ve realized that dual diagnosis was probably the missing piece for a successful recovery for yourself or a loved one, how do you know what to look for in the right program?
A lot of people scour the web looking for the top dual diagnosis treatment centers, but there is no simple answer. There are many factors that go into a top program dealing with co-occurring (another word for dual diagnosis) addiction treatment programs.
And it’s critically important to understand what makes a good one because there are many centers that say they offer dual diagnosis, but don’t really put it into practice.
Mental health issues often precede addiction by about 3 years, so it’s not surprising then that most people struggling with addiction are also struggling with mental health issues. That’s essentially what dual diagnosis means, addiction and other mental health issues diagnosed together.
If a center is just focusing on addiction, as many do, then they are not able to treat the root causes of that addiction – the diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses people are also struggling with.
Simply stated, when someone experiences a substance use disorder, but they also have a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, they have what is called a dual diagnosis. You might also hear this called a co-occurring disorder as well. These two names can be used interchangeably.
Even if you might not have heard about it, dual diagnosis is a lot more common than you would think. More often than not, people struggling with substance abuse have already been dealing with another mental health condition that might have driven them to addiction in the first place. This might sound surprising, but the research says otherwise.
Dual diagnosis could be anything from depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD all the way to bipolar, schizophrenia, or personality disorder. The combinations are endless. In reality, dual diagnosis is a bit of a misnomer because it’s not just relegated to two different diagnoses. It’s very common for people to be diagnosed with a combination, for example, ADHD, addiction, and anxiety.
What Are Some Co-occurring Disorders that Occur Alongside Addiction?
When individuals struggling with addiction come into treatment for the first time, they might be surprised to learn that they have had a mental health condition for years that they never knew about.
We know what you might be thinking, ‘So what? What does dual diagnosis have to do with addiction?’ One thing we have to stress is the importance of discovering a dual diagnosis while in treatment. Mental illnesses are not easy to live with, especially when we don’t know about them.
It is these very mental health conditions that could be driving us to use and could be contributing to how many times we relapse.
We might not be able to control our addiction if we can’t understand why we are using in the first place. Finding the root cause in treatment is going to help you understand how to stay clean and prevent you from wanting to use again in the future.
When we are given a proper dual diagnosis, we can then take action to help the addiction as well as the mental condition that we are struggling with.
Mental illnesses can be improved through proper medication or just therapy and understanding how to live with it. By not treating it at all, we are asking for more problems with our addiction down the road and reduce our chances of a lifelong recovery.
Dual diagnosis hasn’t been known for very long, but lately, a lot of centers are advertising about it on their sites. Just because a center mentions it on their website does not necessarily mean that they have the ability to treat it.
Recognizing a dual diagnosis is one thing, but treating it is completely different. Since two conditions are at play here, it can be very difficult to know which condition is causing which symptoms. Only masters level clinically trained therapists will have the ability to distinguish between the two after in-depth study and analysis. – This also often includes prescriptions, which can only be written by the masters or doctorate level clinicians.
If you notice that a center is not equipped with clinical staff, it is a good sign that they are not going to be able to treat a dual diagnosis. Some centers operate using addiction treatment counselors and don’t actually have licensed clinicians running the show. It’s places like these that you are going to want to stay away from if you know or suspect you have a dual diagnosis.
In list form, features to look for are:
There is a certain stigma attached to these words that we as a society are working towards correcting.
People don’t like to hear that they are suffering from a mental illness or mental health condition. Learning that you have a mental health condition is not uncommon nor is it something you should be offended by.
In 2014 alone, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) reported that 7.9 million adults experienced co-occurring disorders. And this number is just based on diagnosed individuals. There are likely a significant number who have gone undiagnosed!
Needless to say, dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders are not at all uncommon and it is important to be aware of this when receiving addiction treatment.
First of all, if you recognize that you are struggling with an addiction, the first step to do is find help. Dual diagnoses can only be found under the supervision of a licensed clinician.
The first step to any addiction-related issue would be to go through a detox program.
Inpatient detox programs are much more efficient than trying to do this on your own. It is important to have medical professionals nearby to monitor your health during the process. Withdrawal is an unavoidable part of the detox process, but the effects can be diminished by actions taken by the medical staff.
Once detox is complete, you will be able to enter into a treatment program. Again, the program you choose should be clinically based and run by licensed professionals. They will be able to assess the possibility of a co-occurring disorder through careful evaluation and psychotherapy techniques and protocols.
One thing that all great centers have in common when treating co-occurring disorders is the fact that they have a primary focus on overall mental health, not just the addiction.
This may sound counter-intuitive when you are seeking treatment for addiction, but when mental health becomes the main focus, it allows them to really find the root causes and treat them at this level.
Another key factor to look at is the staff. We mentioned this earlier, but we can’t stress it enough. At a quality center, the staff should be licensed (either with a Master’s or Doctorate level degree) and be working for that particular center, full-time.
Many centers will only have these psychiatrists visit with patients 15 minutes a week as they have expensive salaries. The best programs have them full-time on staff and regularly working with patients. If the workers are mostly part-time, it does not allow for complete access to their attention.
These staff members also must be licensed so they have the power to prescribe and dispense medication which could be a vital part of the treatment process when dealing with mental health issues.
Many centers only use CADCs or other lower level counselors with maybe a 2-year certificate. They are not licensed to practice mental health. You need at least a master’s and many hours of clinical experience so it’s crucial that a dual diagnosis center has an LMFT, LCSW, psychiatrist, etc. on staff.
People looking for treatment get so focused on their time in rehab that they forget to ask about any aftercare that is available.
Great centers will have a strong aftercare program in place especially when dealing with dual diagnosis cases. Mental health issues take time to treat and more assistance will be needed than the 28 day stay at the facility.
Also, be on the lookout and seek programs that allow family involvement. Mental health, like addiction, typically stems from family and environmental dynamics.
In order to stay on the path of recovery, you will have to be aware of any contributions or stressors that the family or loved ones will have on the process.
Finally, all strong facilities treating dual diagnosis will teach valuable life support skills.
Mental health is something that needs constant work and attention. Quality centers will teach you how you can keep your mind healthy through daily exercises like meditation, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, and mindfulness.
Navigating the world of addiction treatment can be challenging, but when you are adding a dual diagnosis to that, you need to be more careful.
While you might feel overwhelmed or stressed out, there is no need to be. There are a lot of centers that don’t know how to handle it, but there are plenty of great centers out there that CAN cater to your needs.
If you or a loved one are looking to break the cycle of mental illness driving you deeper into addiction, check out Shadow Mountain Recovery.
We have locations in 3 states, individualized treatment plans, 12-Step and 12-Step Alternative options, and Master’s level clinicians on site. And every location has dual diagnosis treatment.
Call us today: 866-768-9790