What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Addiction and Who Can It Help?

For someone who has mental health issues on top of a substance abuse disorder, dual diagnosis treatment is the answer. Here are the basics.

Many times, people with mental illness to turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Self-medicating is their attempt to gain some relief from their conditions.

Many treatment centers focus on treating addiction.

But, most treatment programs aren’t capable of treating patients with a dual diagnosis.

This can be especially frustrating for patients seeking dual diagnosis treatment.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that there are 7.9 million people with dual diagnosis conditions.

If you’re among the millions of Americans with a dual diagnosis, this post is for you.

Read on to learn about treatment options for dual diagnoses!

Mental Illness

One in four adults in America has a form of mental illness.

Many people suffer from more than one mental illness at a time.

Some of the most common mental illnesses are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Mood disorders

Most people who commit suicide have a mental illness.

Patients with mental illness can be difficult to diagnose. Doctors may need to modify treatment many times to find what works.

Substance Abuse & Mental Illness

Studies have found that mental illness and addiction often go hand in hand. Many national surveys show half of those with a mental illness also have addiction issues.

Among adolescents in community-based treatment, co-occurring conditions are not uncommon. For them, research indicates that 60% of patients may have a dual diagnosis.

But, having more than one condition presents challenges for patient treatment teams. Unfortunately, the skills for this type of treatment is extensive. It requires more resources and training than it does for treating addiction alone.

There are many other challenges that professional face as well. And, there are those that patients must overcome, too.

Medical Challenges Associated With Treating Dual Diagnoses

Most treatment programs specialize in treating specific conditions. For example, they may treat either addiction or mental illness. But, few programs treat both of these conditions.

Treating mental illness and substance abuse separately may increase the risk of relapse.

But, treating co-occurring conditions simultaneously can be a challenge.

First, centers must be able to offer several treatment solutions. This often includes a combination of therapy, medication, and other treatments for patients. Plus, staff members must receive training to treat both types of conditions.

Patients may also need long periods of medical supervision, hospitalization, or in-patient services.

These services don’t often come cheap. And, for patients without viable health insurance, paying for treatment is often impossible.

State & Federal Programs for Mental Health & Substance Abuse

Patients who don’t have health insurance depend on publicly-funded programs.

This includes treatment for mental illness and addiction. For patients with both of these conditions, there are few public treatment options.

The History of Public Treatment Programs

Until the early 1960s, state and federal involvement in mental health was minimal. There were also no significant public funds to pay for mental health programs before the 60s.

In 1963, the government passed legislation allowing grants for community-based mental health centers. This helped expand public treatment services for individuals with mental illness.

In 1970, the government began defining alcoholism as a treatable condition. A year later, laws passed for state-substance abuse and community-based treatment programs.

This was a major accomplishment. But, there was still a long way to go. Even today, there is more work to be done before everyone can access the treatment they need.

The Limitations of a Singular Approach to Treatment

Many states have since combined drug and alcohol treatment agencies. Yet, state mental health programs remain separate from state substance abuse programs.

The states’ approach limits treatment options for either addiction or mental illness. Rarely does a state-funded program offer treatment of for both conditions together.

Integrated treatment for co-occurring conditions is the most ideal. Patients with co-occurring conditions relying on government agencies often experience disadvantages. One reason for this is due to a lack of public treatment centers.

The Most Effective Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, combined treatment is most effective.

Separate treatments for mental illness and substance abuse yield lower success rates. This is especially true for patients exhibiting symptoms of both conditions.

Often, several different types of treatments offer the most benefits to patients. Some of the types of treatments for dual diagnosis include the following:

  • Medication for substance abuse or co-morbid symptoms
  • Medication for symptoms of psychological or behavioral conditions
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Talk therapy, which may include individual, group, and/or family therapy sessions
  • Long-term residential communities
  • Assertive community therapy
  • Exposure therapy to treat specific phobias
  • Socialization
  • Basic living skills education programs
  • Treatment for coping with trauma and PTSD

Patients may need a wide range of treatments and services to achieve success.

Some private treatment centers are not able to treat dual diagnosis patients. Like public programs, they may not have the resources these patients need.

However, there are substance abuse centers throughout the country that treat dual diagnosis patients. But, they may be more difficult to find. And, sometimes, they may have a waiting list to enter treatment.

As a result, some centers have come up with creative ways that they can offer treatment to these patients.

There are organizations and medical treatment centers that share the same location.

Patient professionals often form teams so they can work together. This allows them to share patient files and information. They may meet to perform case reviews and discuss a unified treatment plan for the patient.

Patient Hurdles

The dual diagnosis patient population has obstacles that may interfere with their success.

These patients tend to relapse or drop out of treatment programs more often than others.

People that have both mental illness and substance abuse disorders may become homeless.

They also may experience legal problems as a result of their conditions. Their conditions may increase the likelihood of criminal behavior. This can lead to charges and convictions over time.

Patients may have difficulty adhering to social norms. They often struggle to maintain employment. Some of these individuals lack the basic living skills needed to function in society.

Efforts for Progress

Today, many public and private organizations are working to expand treatment options for patients.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is working toward integrated treatment. They are trying to encourage the development of a more capable workforce. Their efforts include professionals such as psychiatrists, therapists, and behavior and addiction specialists.

Also, there has been some progress in community-based criminal justice reform. Some programs aim to treat and rehabilitate offenders who suffer from a dual diagnosis. This is a new approach by the court system.

Social organizations have begun partnering with other groups to help offer services as well.

Now that professionals realize the need, they are more determined to come up with a solution.

Advice for Individuals Struggling With Addiction & Mental Illness

Despite challenges, there are programs that treat individuals with a dual diagnosis.

If you suffer from addiction and mental illness, there are ways to boost your odds of success.

Reaching out to family and friends for support can provide you with a team to help you when the going gets tough. Not only that, but you’ll have a valuable network to call on when you need them. They may be able to give you rides to appointments, help schedule treatment, or listen when you need to talk.

It’s best to find a treatment program that’s tailored to fit your needs. Not every treatment program will be the right one for you. But, there are resources that can help you find what works.

If you feel hopeless, it’s crucial that you seek professional help. There are many risks and consequences associated with both addiction and mental illness.

Finally, don’t give up.

It may take some effort, but finding help is possible. Treatment is the key to changing your life for the better.

Achieving balance and a healthy recovery is within your reach, as long you are willing to accept it.

Are You Considering Treatment?

If you’re suffering from mental illness or addiction, it’s important to get treatment.

Taking charge of your recovery begins when you reach out for help.

You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to gain freedom from your conditions. But, more importantly, you’re worth it.

Are you considering treatment for mental illness and substance abuse?

Whatever you might be experiencing today, there are others who share your experiences. And, there are also many people with a dual diagnosis who have recovered.

You don’t have to go through this process alone. We’re here to help.

Contact us today to begin your journey to recovery!


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  • (877) 224-0761
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