Why do some people struggle with addiction—what’s the root cause of substance abuse? You might be asking this question if you are dealing with addiction or are supporting a loved one who is. And, you have probably heard the term dual diagnosis before. But what does it mean, and how does addressing dual diagnoses during drug and alcohol treatment impact recovery?
Dual Diagnosis—What Does It Mean?
Dual diagnosis is also referred to as co-occurring disorders, and it’s when someone experiences a mental illness and substance abuse. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness does not always cause substance abuse. Sometimes, substance abuse occurs first—and then a mental health condition surfaces and worsens.
Perhaps more often, people struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder and other mental health issues might turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate and improve their symptoms. The reality is, drugs and alcohol worsen symptoms, though a person might feel some immediate gratification in the form of escape.
The bottom line is, many people who struggle with addiction also are dealing with mental disorders. Dual diagnosis is common among those who face addiction. It affects 7.9 million people in the United States, according to a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The numbers are not getting lower.
Why do substance abuse and mental illness occur together? They are linked to the same root cause: social, biological and environmental factors that cause a break in healthy brain development. And, the good news is, these illnesses can be treated together successfully. Stick with us, and we’ll explain how.
Dual Diagnosis Symptoms
The symptoms you experience with dual diagnosis depend on the type of mental health condition you or a loved one is facing, and how the combination of diagnoses interact. For example, someone with anxiety who abuses drugs is going to have different triggers and behaviors than a person who struggles with PTSD and alcohol dependency.
Symptoms of dual diagnosis vary. However, some typical signs that a person could be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse include withdrawal from family and friends, sudden behavioral changes, engaging in risky behavior, developing a high tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, and feeling like you need a drug or alcohol to function.
Symptoms of a mental health condition include mood changes, problems concentrating, avoiding friends and activities you once enjoyed, difficulty sleeping, weight gain or loss, reduced energy, and thought of suicide.
What’s important to know is, the symptoms of a mental health concern depend on the condition. Anxiety, depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder come with their own set of signals—and when combined with substance abuse or addiction, symptoms can worsen.
Treating Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Together
“We can’t treat your bipolar disorder while you’re using drugs.”
“We’ll deal with the depression after you stop drinking.”
These statements are not true, and not an effective way of treating mental health conditions with substance abuse. Dual diagnosis requires integrated care. What we’re saying is, you can treat mental illness and addiction at the same time. You can recover from substance abuse while you get treatment for mental health struggles. And, in fact, treating dual diagnoses simultaneously will improve the success of recovery from drugs, alcohol and mental illness. But, this requires the support of a treatment program and professionals who know how to integrate mental health care and addiction recovery. It is a specialty. When mental illness and substance abuse occur together, they are best treated together.
Taking a holistic approach to dual diagnosis treatment means you support team is looking at the big picture: your environment, your mental health condition, your substance abuse struggle, along with potential trauma, resources, oppression, spirituality, family and your needs as an individual. At Beachway, we believe that it’s crucial to look at the whole person, and then create an individual program of care that addresses mental health and substance abuse at the same time. This can include a variety of therapies:
Detoxification: The first stage on a journey toward recovery is monitored by trained medical staff and can last for up to seven days, depending on the individual. Detoxification for dual diagnosis is a time when the body is purging substances, and a person will go through withdrawal. Utmost support and comfort is necessary to successfully detox and prepare for recovery from dual diagnosis.
One-on-one counseling: It’s important to be partnered with a therapist that understands mental health conditions and substance abuse, and how to treat them together. The fields of mental health and substance abuse recovery tend to have different cultures. So make sure to ask if the treatment program includes integrated care.
Group therapy: An opportunity to connect with others who are on the same journey of coping with mental health and substance abuse can build a sense of support, stability and create a network of people you can trust. We learn from each other.
Family counseling: Therapy with family members helps to rebuild relationships and reinforces a safety net.
Access to 12-step programs: Proven 12-step programs can complement therapies that address mental health and holistic options that build confidence and introduce you to a healthy lifestyle.
Behavioral therapy: Be sure the treatment program uses evidence-based practices in medical, psychiatric and addiction treatment. Ask about cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, addiction counseling and dialectical behavioral therapy. These therapies can be integrated into an individualized dual diagnosis treatment program.
Complementary therapies: You’ll learn to relax in positive ways and enjoy life without drugs and alcohol
Getting to the Root Cause—You Can Recover from a Dual Diagnosis
You might feel isolated or defeated by mental illness and substance abuse, especially if you’ve tried treatment programs in the past that haven’t worked. The good news is: You can recover successfully, with an integrated care program that takes into account you, as a whole person, your mental illness and your struggle with substances.
If you are dealing with dual diagnosis, or you know a loved one who is, please reach out to us. Contact us at 877.284.0353, or fill out this simple form and a compassionate Beachway associate will call you. Many of our staff have walked this same road. We are here to help.