Understanding The Complexities And Treating Dual Diagnosis

23 May 2019
 Categories: Business, Blog


Struggling with addiction is hard enough, but when you have a dual diagnosis, it can be even harder to get the treatment you need. Here is what you need to know about dual diagnosis treatment program services.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when a person has not only a drug or alcohol addiction but a mental health illness as well. These conditions used to be treated individually of one another, but clinicians now know that the conditions cannot be separated. Many people with mental illnesses, especially if they have not yet been diagnosed or accurately diagnosed, turn to alcohol or drugs in an effort to self-medicate. For example, someone who suffers from severe anxiety may turn to alcohol to quell their nervous social anxiety. A schizophrenic may turn to heroin to quiet the voice in their head.

Conversely, substance abuse typically adversely affects every aspect of not only the addict's life but their body as well, particularly the brain. The damage drugs and overusing alcohol can do to the brain can and often does cause brain abnormalities that then present as mental illness. It becomes a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg, and trying to find out the best treatment methods for both is paramount.

How Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment Complicated?

Another component to a dual diagnosis further complicates the matter: many people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness don't take their prescribed medications. For many people, they complain the side effects are worse than the benefits. The schizophrenic who is prescribed lithium often reports feeling like a "zombie," or that they are no longer themselves. Others have a difficult time accepting they are mentally ill and take their medication only for a brief time. Once the medication begins working and they feel better, they go off of it, hoping this time they are "cured." Some people are too mentally ill to consistently take their medications. 

Additionally, someone with a mental illness who is actively engage in substance abuse is not living a stable life. Getting sober and medicated often means having to deal with a lot of emotional and practical problems. For example, they may have legal issues to deal with or guilt or other hurdles, and a sudden dose of reality can be overwhelming, sending them back to their usual coping skills.

How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated?

Both conditions must be treated simultaneously, and the treatment must be integrated. This means that every provider involved in their treatment must know what the others are doing. A long-term stay in a treatment facility followed by living in a residential care facility is often required for a successful outcome. Medication and extended psychotherapy as well as support from social services and other agencies are also important components of treating the patient with a dual diagnosis.