Dual Diagnosis

By definition, dual diagnosis refers to having a mental health condition in combination with a substance use disorder simultaneously. Additionally, dual diagnosis is often referred to as having a co-occurring disorder. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly half of all individuals with a substance use disorder also had a mental health condition. In other words, 9.2 million adults in the United States qualify for having a co-occurring disorder.


Dealing with a mental health condition as well as a substance use disorder is extremely difficult, causing psychological, physical, social, and interpersonal relationship issues. As a result, individuals suffering from co-occurring disorders should always seek professional mental health treatment.


If an individual has a dual diagnosis, they require an integrative treatment plan that effectively treats both their mental health condition and substance use disorder. The goal of dual diagnosis treatment is for individuals to learn how to manage both conditions and their symptoms. In doing so, individuals are able to function in all areas of their lives ad pursue their goals. In order to achieve this, dual diagnosis treatment centers must incorporate several core elements into their treatment plans.


To explain, these treatment plans should include assertive outreach, a long-term, comprehensive and staged approach to recovery, motivational interventions, life skills and support network development, recovery maintenance (or relapse prevention), as well as cultural sensitivity.


What are Mental Health Conditions?

Mental health conditions are mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders that are diagnosed by professional psychologists or psychiatrists. When a mental health condition begins to interfere or limit major life activity or ability to function, it reaches the level of a serious mental illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental health condition, affecting 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older. However, there is an array of other mental health conditions including mood, personality, and development disorders that affect millions of Americans on a daily basis.


The most common mental health conditions include the following:

  • Bipolar disorder- a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings including extreme highs (mania or hypomania) and extreme lows (depression).
  • Persistent depressive disorder- a continuous long-term (chronic) form of depression.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder- an anxiety disorder that causes chronic excessive anxiety and worry that is difficult to control, causes distress or impairment in daily functioning.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder- a disorder known for a pattern of unwanted fears and thoughts that cause an individual to perform repetitive behaviors.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder- a mental health condition caused by experiencing a terrifying event, causing an individual to be unable to function properly.
  • Social anxiety disorder- excessive fear of embarrassment in social situations that is extremely intrusive and can have debilitating effects on personal and professional relationships
  • Schizophrenia- a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior


What is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorders are defined as the inability to complete major responsibilities in life due to the abuse of drugs or alcohol on a recurrent basis. According to NSDUH, alcohol is the most common substance of abuse in America, with 14.8 million individuals suffering from alcohol abuse. On the other hand, illicit drug abuse affects 8.1 million Americans. Therefore, it is plain to see that a large number of individuals suffer from substance use disorder.


As previously mentioned, substance use disorder is very common among individuals with co-occurring mental health conditions. For example, nearly 4 out of 10 individuals with a mental health condition abuse alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, individuals without a mental illness abuse drugs at a lower rate, with only 15.7 percent using an illicit drug in the past year. When considering these numbers, individuals with a mental health condition are twice as likely to abuse substances than the general population.


What Causes Dual Diagnosis?

Technically, it is unknown whether mental illness causes substance abuse or vice versa. In fact, either mental illness or substance abuse can occur before the other. Some individuals with mental health conditions begin to use alcohol or illicit drugs in order to self-medicate the symptoms of their disorder. On the other hand, substance use disorder can cause certain mental health conditions.


Mental health conditions can develop due to genetic predispositions or due to events occurring in an individual’s life. For example, war veterans or victims of sexual abuse can develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their trauma. In other words, individuals may not have a family history of mental illness, however, they can still develop a mental health condition of their own. Similarly, individuals might develop substance use disorder because of traumatic incidents in their life or due to a genetic predisposition.


Whichever comes first – mental illness or substance use disorder – it is important to recognize that one ailment may cause or worsen the other when left untreated. Additionally, once an individual has developed both a mental illness as well as a substance use disorder, professional dual-diagnosis treatment is vital for one’s recovery. Dealing with the effects of both ailments is extremely difficult and individuals must recover from both issues simultaneously, in order to avoid a relapse of their disorder or substance abuse.


Dual Diagnosis Treatment

During dual diagnosis treatment, both the mental health condition and substance use disorder are treated simultaneously in order to provide a cohesive and comprehensive treatment plan. Dual diagnosis treatment consists of a variety of traditional and innovative addiction and mental health treatment modalities.


For example, patients receive a psychiatric evaluation and provide details on their substance abuse in order for staff members to create an individualized treatment plan suited to the patient’s needs. Soon after, individuals will begin medically detoxing from all substances while receiving extensive treatment for their mental health condition. As a result, patients are able to become free from their addiction to substances, recover from past traumas, and learn how to manage their mental health condition(s) in a healthy manner.


If you or a loved one suffer from co-occurring disorders, such as a mental health condition and a substance use disorder, treatment is available. Dual diagnosis treatment centers will provide you with the support, addiction therapy, and psychiatric care that you need. With the combination of behavioral and psychotherapies as well as peer support and counseling, recovery is possible and attainable.


To learn more about dual diagnosis treatment, contact us today. Our experts are waiting by ready to connect you with the best dual diagnosis treatment professionals near you.

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