What is dual diagnosis? It’s also known as a co-occurring mental health condition that appears alongside someone suffering from addiction. A lot of people with a mental health diagnosis have turned to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate at some point. In the moment, it can make challenging emotions easier to cope with. However, long term, drugs and alcohol have a damaging effect on your mental health.
Likewise, people who abuse substances can develop mental health issues over time. This is because of the way substances affect the chemical balance in your brain. However, addiction and mental health issues don’t necessarily cause one another. It seems that they interact and, along with genes, make people with a dual diagnosis more susceptible to each other.
Why Is Dual Diagnosis Important?
There are a lot of people who get a detox, attend rehab and feel like they’re making progress. They successfully complete a program and resume life as usual. Then, when something happens that they struggle to cope with, they relapse. Although there are other risk factors for relapse, which we’ll discuss in detail later on, an undiagnosed mental health condition is a leading cause.
Mental health conditions are the result of a complex mixture of genetics and responses to traumatic or unusual events. Almost one in five people in the United States has experienced a mental health issue, making it more common than many people realize.
People with a dual diagnosis are more likely to struggle with their emotions and have deeply ingrained negative self-beliefs. This puts them at a higher risk for relapse if those feelings are not addressed and managed by a mental health professional.
Do Mental Health Issues Cause Addiction?
Even though there isn’t a direct causational effect between the two, they are major risk factors for each other. Someone with mental health issues is more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol if a symptom of their condition is impulsivity, low self-esteem, anxiety or depression.
Impulsivity makes it difficult for them to resist temptation or to realize that the positive effects of excessive drinking or drug use are outweighed by the negative. Plus, substance abuse can numb the difficult emotions someone with a mental health condition experiences.
Over time, addiction can take a severe toll on mental health. The brain is incredibly strong, and recovery is possible at any stage — no matter how long you’ve struggled with addiction. However, chronic addiction to drugs or alcohol can cause you to deteriorate mentally.
Treatment for dual diagnosis is essential in someone with a mental health condition. Otherwise, they’re at risk of falling into a cycle of relapse and recovery.
Relapse Risk Factors
There are a variety of other relapse risk factors. These are particularly crucial for anyone who has a dual diagnosis or worries that they might have one. Under the supervision of a trained counselor, you’ll learn to recognize when the feelings that lead to relapse occur and implement coping mechanisms around them. Learning about them is the first stage; the seven risk factors are:
- Social disconnection
- Intense emotion
- Persisting frustration
What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?
When you start a dual diagnosis treatment program, you’re assessed by a doctor. They find out which co-occurring conditions are influencing your behavior, work out how your mental health is driving your addictive behavior and make a plan about how to treat both alongside each other.
You’ll receive treatment for both conditions in a dual diagnosis treatment program. That doesn’t mean one therapy session split in two; it involves two separate therapy sessions to address the distinct issues. There are multiple levels of treatment for dual diagnosis, which usually include working through the following stages:
- Detox: During detox, you purge your body of all the toxins and effects from the substances you’ve been using. In some cases, you might get medication to help ease the symptoms caused by your dual diagnosis.
- Inpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab is usually the first stage in addiction treatment. You’ll live there full time to focus on overcoming the challenges faced during the acute stages of the recovery process.
- Psychotherapy sessions: As someone with a dual diagnosis, psychotherapy is imperative. You’ll attend a variety of different courses, including EMDR, motivational interviewing and behavioral therapy, to resolve trauma and learn new coping mechanisms.
- Outpatient rehab: Once you’re finished with residential rehab, you’ll step down to an outpatient program. Checking in each week with a therapist and support group helps you to implement what you’ve learned in intensive rehab into your real life.
- Aftercare: Aftercare is just as essential as the rehab program. Most people who enjoy a long and successful recovery attend some form of therapy on an ongoing basis to help keep them on track to achieving their goals.
How Does Dual Diagnosis Treatment Differ From Regular Treatment?
If you have a dual diagnosis, your caregivers will devise a more comprehensive care plan. It requires an extra level of commitment from you, because you’ll examine stressful thoughts, feelings and beliefs — many of which haven’t been within your control. You might also require medication-assisted treatment or more specific types of therapy.
Together with the help of a team of addiction experts and the right diagnosis, you can regain control over your future.
What Are the Outcomes of Dual Diagnosis?
If you have a dual diagnosis, unfortunately, there are more hurdles in your path. However, understanding yourself — and getting treatment from doctors who understand you — makes all the difference.
The outcome of successful treatment is that you get a more positive view of yourself and learn to focus on the present. Therapy can help you learn how to manage your feelings and implement healthy coping strategies when you’re finding a situation hard or having a bad day.