Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis: What it is and Why it’s Important

The term “dual diagnosis” refers to a condition in which a person has both a mental illness and an addiction issue. Either condition, when dealt with alone, could be devastating or even deadly, but when put together, the conditions tend to reinforce and interact with one another, making recovery all the more difficult for the person to accomplish without help.

While the specific causes of dual diagnosis conditions aren’t fully understood, researchers know that family history, genetics, brain chemistry and environmental factors all tend to play important roles in the dual diagnosis process. And, researchers know that treatments that impact all these factors, providing complete care for both conditions together, have the greatest chance of success.

This article will outline the fundamentals of care, and will explain why it’s so important for people with a dual diagnosis to ask for, and receive, the help they’ll need to recover.

Co-occurring Disorders Are Common

Multiple national population surveys have found that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. This might be surprising, but the reality is there are probably thousands more people who struggle with dual diagnosis issues, and who never come to the attention of the researchers and doctors who might help them.

According to statistics from SAMHSA, only 8.5 percent of people with a dual diagnosis got care for both problems. The rest received no care, or received care for one problem and not the other. This is a tragedy, as specialized programs and ongoing community-based support groups can provide lifesaving help for men and women who experience dual disorders. With this sort of care, they can recover.

The Many Types of Dual Disorders

One in four adults with a mental illness is also reported to have a substance abuse disorder. While researchers often conduct studies on the dual diagnosis issue, lumping all people with mental illnesses and addictions into one group, most treatment providers agree there is no single type of dual disorder.

Some forms of psychiatric illness can impair an individual’s ability to function and relate well to others on a daily basis, while another mental illness might only cause cyclical impairment.

There are many kinds of mental illnesses that, combined with a substance abuse disorder, would classify as a dual diagnosis issue. Here are a few examples that can be treated here at Shadow Mountain Recovery:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder

Dual disorders become even more complex when alcohol and drug use is considered. For example, there are many types of intoxicating chemicals to choose from. A person who chooses heroin might feel sedated and calm, while a person who chooses methamphetamine might appear keyed-up and paranoid. Both addicts could have a dual diagnosis, but their disease paths are different, and their treatment paths will also be different.

While it’s true that dual diagnosis can take many forms, and each person is unique and will need a tailored treatment plan to experience the real benefit of recovery, there are some shared attributes that might inform the treatment choices made.

For example, all people with a dual diagnosis will need to focus treatment efforts on both illnesses, and that treatment should happen concurrently. Treating one problem, while leaving the other in place, could cause the original problem grow stronger. Both issues must be addressed together in order for the person to truly heal. Not exploring these areas leaves the client at risk for ongoing issues.

Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The foundation of an integrated treatment model is a “systems approach,” which consists of looking at the psychiatric and psychological history as well as the addiction. Often, this begins with a thorough evaluation and assessment. Here, professionals get a clear picture of the severity of the mental health issues as well as the addiction issue. Often, these inpatient interviews reveal deep problems that must be addressed in treatment.

For example, a study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found those who had a dual diagnosis, most had:

  • Undesirable living arrangements
  • A history of arrest
  • A history of previous psychiatric hospitalizations
  • Poor familial and social relationships
  • A history of abuse of multiple drugs

It’s clear that these people had serious issues, and they would need a serious approach to care to recover. For this reason, most experts agree that people with a dual diagnosis should receive care in an inpatient program, where they live on the ground and obtain help on a 24/7 basis. While people with less complex addiction histories might find success in outpatient programs, continuing to live at home while obtaining care, people with a dual diagnosis might need more intensive help succeed.

Effective Therapies

Therapeutic choices are vast, and they could mean real help for people who have a dual diagnosis. Most people who enter treatment programs are paired with a therapist, and are asked to go through multiple one-on-one treatment sessions in which they discuss both their addictions and their illnesses, and learn more about how they can be handled.

This treatment, sometimes referred to as “treatment as usual,” is sometimes more effective if it is augmented with group therapy. Here, people can learn from one another, support one another and share stories of recovery. It could be a meaningful way for people to improve. In a study of group therapy, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, those who received group therapy had “significantly improved social and family relations, compared with the treatment-as-usual group,” and they also had reduced substance abuse levels.

For some people, group therapy makes a world of difference. The therapist controls these interactions and helps the person learn how to deal with the fear and cope with the trigger.
Therapists might also use additional techniques to reach their dual diagnosis patients. For example, patients who have an anxiety disorder might benefit from exposure therapy in which they’re provided with repeated exposure to a situation, memory or object that fills them with fear. People with a dual diagnosis might find tailored therapy techniques like this to be beneficial.

Our staff at Shadow Mountain Recovery realized that dual diagnosis treatment is essential in order for people who suffer from mental illness and addiction to fully recover. We also understand that treatment should be individualized, which is why we offer many other forms of therapy for clients:

  • Activity-based therapy, we offer this form of therapy from the many studies that have proven how effective exercise can be in addiction treatment.
  • Cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies, which are research-supported approaches to counseling and psychotherapy that can greatly assist with dual diagnosis cases.
  • Trauma-informed care, because many cases of substance abuse and mental health diagnosis, results from traumatic events. 

If you or a loved one needs an individualized treatment plan to help with addiction and mental health, call Shadow Mountain Recovery today.

Don’t wait another day to get the help you or a loved one needs. Call us now.