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Dual Diagnosis: The Connection Between Mental Health and Addiction

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More than two decades ago, researchers found that treating one person for two behavioral health disorders — even simultaneously — at two separate clinics or care providers was often ineffective. Parallel treatment was the norm at the time. Yet the need for a more combined treatment approach for those with substance abuse issues and a mental disorder was obvious.

By the mid-1980s, the basis for integrated treatment for people with two related but very different issues began to emerge. Dual diagnosis, also referred to as co-occurring disorders, gained traction from there. Today, numerous addiction recovery facilities focus on dual-diagnosis treatment.

For families affected by co-occurring disorders, the following information will help provide you and your loved ones with best practices for recovery and care.

Dual Diagnosis: A Formal Introduction

Essentially, dual diagnosis refers to someone who has a substance abuse problem and a mental illness at the same time. It does not matter which came first. The substance abuse issue or the mental health disorder may have existed one before the other and an individual can still have a dual diagnosis.

However, co-occurring disorders are complex because one disorder can be caused or influenced by the other. For example, someone who uses alcohol frequently may eventually have a diagnosable form of clinical depression or vice versa. While it doesn’t matter which condition was present first for the purposes of diagnosis, it can make a substantial difference in finding the appropriate treatment plan.

Is Dual Diagnosis Common?

At least 7.9 million individuals in the United States have a substance abuse problem and a mental health disorder at the same time, according to a 2014 survey. Dual diagnosis is slightly more common among men than women, with 4.1 million of the 7.9 million being males.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis As an Inpatient

With a dual diagnosis, inpatient treatment can be preferred by some individuals and may work well for those who do not have a stable home environment.

During inpatient treatment, there are typically multiple components of care, such as:

  • Daily therapy to help individuals cope with both conditions and learn how to make healthier choices
  • Support groups to provide a social network where emotional growth and connections are encouraged
  • Education to help patients in dual-diagnosis treatment better understand their conditions

Inpatient treatment for those with co-occurring disorders can be beneficial because a strong sense of community is also developed during treatment. The individuals in treatment often build long-lasting bonds, so they have a good peer-support system after treatment.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis As an Outpatient

As an outpatient, treatment for dual diagnosis issues with addiction and a mental health disorder can look a bit different from what it would for an inpatient. Still, there are similar attributes and, of course, the goals are the same.

For example, support groups, or some type of group therapy, are common components during outpatient dual-diagnosis treatment because having peer support is a key part of a successful recovery.

Facets of outpatient care that are unique include:

  • Medication management or medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which may include using drugs such as buprenorphine to combat cravings and having patients come to a clinic to receive their everyday medications
  • Independent living support to help those in treatment learn how to live a sober life independently
  • Family therapy to include the patient’s loved ones in the recovery process

Outpatient care is more often the preference for people seeking treatment because it allows them to continue their everyday lives. They can still go to work, be present for their families, etc.

Addiction and mental health disorders can be so closely entwined that it is oftentimes difficult to distinguish one condition from the other. By working through a dual diagnosis treatment plan, patients begin to learn what symptoms are relative to which condition, so those symptoms can be easier to manage or treat. To achieve lasting recovery, attention to both problems concurrently is often a necessary part of good treatment.

This infographic was created by Column Health

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Senior Psychotherapist Lindsey Kimball joined Column Health — an outpatient mental health clinic — after receiving her master’s degree in mental health from Caldwell University. Her clinical background includes the assistance of individuals with a variety of conditions ranging from incarceration to brain injury. She believes in the process of forming a safe space for healing that is unique to the individual, and based on a foundation of trust and collaboration.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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