How Dual Diagnosis Treatment Saves Addicts Lives

How Dual Diagnosis Treatment Saves Addicts Lives

Dual Diagnosis Treatment, Fixing the Entire Person

Less than 30 years ago mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment were thought of and treated separately. It’s scary when you think about it. We had been on the moon for over 11 years, invented the cell phone and the internet before our mental health and substance abuse professionals got together and decided to treat co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and mental health as… Co-occurring disorders. Just before the dual diagnosis began to gain popularity we were still living in the “Just Say No” era. Where the war on drugs, mandatory minimums and the insane idea that addiction was a choice were widely accepted practices and beliefs. Today we know better and are taking much better care of addicted individuals who have a primary diagnosis in mental health and a secondary diagnosis in substance abuse. We are now finally helping these people and it is about time, since it is estimated that over 50% of alcoholics and drug addicts have a co-occurring mental disorder and meet the dual diagnosis definition.

Definition and History of Dual Diagnosis Treatment


Dual diagnosis is defined by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) as a term used to describe an individual who has a mood disorder such as schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder and a problem with alcohol or drugs. Even though treatment for substance abuse and alcoholism has been around for over 100 years, dual diagnosis didn’t become accepted until the mid 1980’s.

Before the practice of dual diagnosis treatment, people with a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder had to receive different treatment, from different doctors. Most times the drug and alcohol rehabs would not treat a patient with a mental health disorder at all and many who did treat addicts with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder would only do so once the patient had successfully completed and was in control of their mental health disorder.

This separation of chemical dependency and state of mind was very problematic, because those with mental health issues have proven to be very sensitive to the effects of drugs and alcohol, and are many times more likely to develop dependency. In addition, once an alcoholic with mental health difficulties begins using substances habitually, the drugs and alcohol also work to exacerbate the mental health condition. So before dual diagnosis treatment addicts and alcoholics were just spinning around and around on a deadly hamster wheel with no real shot of recovery. Thankfully today dual diagnosis is widely accepted and practiced and producing very promising results.

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2 Deadly Disorders Under One Roof

Patients with a dual diagnosis are considered by the institutions charged with their care to be high-risk patients. Dealing with all the challenges of a mental illness is extremely difficult, but when accompanied by a substance abuse problem, the suffering individual can spiral out of control. It is at these very vulnerable moments where instances of suicide and violent outbursts can occur. Those with bi-polar disorder or other mental health challenges often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. When those substances are removed the mental health difficulties increase, as do the cravings for drugs and alcohol. This is why dual diagnosis is so important and having a plan for both bi-polar disorder and substance use disorder under one roof is paramount to recovery. A patient with dual diagnosis can be very difficult to treat and a misdiagnosis could cause more harm to a patient who may only be suffering from drug addiction. To make sure that one is indeed suffering from a co-occurring disorder, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a person with a mental illness and a substance abuse problem.

Symptoms of A Dual Diagnosis Patient

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Due to the fact that there are so many combinations of mental health disorders and chemical dependency disorders the symptoms of dual diagnosis patient have a tendency to vary greatly. Below is a comprehensive list of symptoms that cover most if not all co-occurring mental health and drug and alcohol patients.

Use of chemicals substances in hazardous situations.
Participating in high-risk behaviors while under the influence.
Abrupt changes in mood and/or behavior.
Inability to control quantity and duration of chemical use.
Withdrawing from family, friends and colleagues.
Increased tolerance and development of withdrawal symptoms.
Thoughts or feelings that substances are required to facilitate daily functions.
Participating in activities outside of normal behaviors to continue use.

Once it is confirmed by both a mental health therapist and a chemical dependency counselor that the patient in question would benefit from a dual diagnosis treatment, the next step is to find a treatment facility that offers the man or woman intensive outpatient treatment or inpatient treatment. One must be sure though that the facility there loved one will be attending knows how to properly treat both disorders.

Knowing Is 100% Of the Dual Diagnosis Battle

The most popular form of dual diagnosis treatment and the one that has been proven to be most successful is called Integrated Intervention. With this approach the patient receives care for both the chemical dependency and the mental illness at the same time. Because of the vast number of mental illnesses it is important to know that each dual diagnosis treatment will be highly individualized based on the co-occurring illness that the patients presents. However, almost all treatment centers specializing in dual diagnosis treatment will begin with a period of detoxification.

Steps to Treating Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Dual Diagnosis

1. Detoxification
Most times a person has succumbed to deadly grip of alcohol or drug dependency, detox is needed. Here, for a period of about 7 days, the patient is tapered off drugs and alcohol, in cases of mental health this would also be the time where the proper medications to treat the mental illness would be discussed and modified or administered if needed.

2. Gender Specific Rehabilitation
Patients with severe mental illness and substance abuse issues tend to act out violently and or sexually when substances are removed. For this reason all drug and mental illness treatments should be performed in a gender specific rehab. Here patients will participate in group therapy and learn the techniques and coping skills required enter recovery from their co-occurring disorders.

3. Proper Use of Medications
Medications can often times become the cornerstone of recovery from a mental illness. Recently, drugs such as naltrexone have also helped to curb cravings from substance abuse. Licensed and accredited dual diagnosis facilities will have the doctors on hand with the experience to make sure that the right medication is prescribed to the right patient.

4. Support Groups.
There are a growing number of support groups for individuals suffering from mental illness around the country. These groups are a way to continue therapy in between sessions with a licensed psychotherapist and to build hope friendship and a sense of belonging. Organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous have also seen great success in helping treat drug and alcohol addiction and almost every city in the United States has several meetings everyday.

Although a dual diagnosis does complicate the recovery process, today science and medicine are helping people afflicted with a mental illness and substance abuse problem recovery faster and stay recovered than ever before.

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