What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Dual diagnosis treatment is a practice that treats people suffering from an addiction as well as a mental health disorder. Many who struggle with substance abuse have unresolved issues in mental health and/or trauma. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that multiple surveys have indicated about half of those who experience mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder, and vice versa. That makes acknowledgement of all conditions, mental health problems like anxiety and depression, as well as alcoholism and drug addiction – a critical component of treatment.

A Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program Treats Mental Health and Substance Abuse

For those who struggle with both a mental health issue and a substance abuse disorder, recovery can be challenging as symptoms tend to be more extreme and resistant to treatment. A dual diagnosis program takes into consideration the psychological aspects of addiction, allowing one to improve mental health in order to be more well-equipped to tackle problems with substance abuse. While depression is the most common mental health disorder linked to substance abuse, there is a long list of others that can be treated with dual diagnosis programs, including anxiety, PTSD, OCD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

These programs help to identify particular mental disorders as well as the psychological factors that trigger substance abuse, which often starts as a form of self-medication. Self-medicating is common – when one doesn’t get the proper care for mental health conditions, they often turn to alcohol and/or drugs as a way to relieve the symptoms. Awareness is the first step toward breaking the cycle, with both addiction and mental health experts involved in treatment plans, guiding treatment and monitoring progress.

While programs may vary, typically they include participation in individual therapy, family counseling and/or mutual support groups. Some also utilize holistic treatments like meditation, yoga, massage therapy, and nutrition to help an individual relieve stress and stay focused on recovery.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

One of the primary benefits of dual diagnosis treatment is that it gets to the root cause of addictive behavior. Without addressing underlying mental and emotional issues, the person is likely to be triggered to use again. When an individual learns how to control issues that currently have control over them and is able to recognize potential triggers, a personalized plan can then be created to limit the possibility of relapse.

dual diagnosis treatment programs Effective treatment integrates both disorders during the recovery process rather than one working on each disorder separately. This helps to recognize how closely integrated they are. Common symptoms are often targeted, such as lack of impulse control, poor mood and nervousness, while inspiring incentives for change. This can help those who are suffering find their own alternative rewards that motivate recovery.

Oftentimes, people who participate in dual diagnosis treatment programs learn skills that can help them in real-world situations, such as practical techniques for making more satisfying life choices and navigating personal relationships. Steps toward recovery include creating strategies can help improve relationships with loved ones and make them feel better overall, building motivation to change behaviors which boosts confidence for making more positive changes.

Multiple scientific studies have proven that integrated, dual diagnosis treatment results in:

  • Fewer hospitalizations
  • A reduction of substance use
  • Better functioning
  • A higher quality of life

In an analysis of treatment results, Integrated Treatment of Substance Use and Psychiatric Disorders, published in 2013 out of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency Services, dual diagnosis treatment was found to be “consistently superior” as compared to treating individual disorders with separate treatment plans. The Center for Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency Services, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

How Dual Diagnosis Differs from Traditional Treatment Options

Treatment through dual diagnosis blends the most successful aspects of substance abuse treatment and mental health care to achieve the greatest odds of recovery. It’s a philosophy based on believing that recovery “begins in the mind,” using an integrated approach to mental health and substance abuse.

Traditional treatment looks at individual disorders. But when a person doesn’t receive proper treatment for all disorders, those that are unaddressed often have a negative impact. That can lead to more drug and/or alcohol use to deal with the mental health issue or issues, which are often worsened due to the substance abuse. Dual diagnosis treatment can effectively break that vicious cycle – which is likely why an October 2000 study noted that those who participated in dual diagnosis recovery reported higher levels of support, less mental health distress, reduced substance use and greater levels of well-being.

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