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What Is Dual Diagnosis?

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

If you have a family member or a friend who has a dual diagnosis, it can be challenging to know what you can do to help. Many people don’t know what dual diagnoses are, let alone the kind of treatment they require. A dual diagnosis needs specialized medical attention. The more informed you become about this condition, the better you can support a loved one.

How Is It Defined?

Dual diagnosis is a term first used in the 1980s among individuals with coexisting mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD). It is also known as “comorbidity” or “co-occurring disorders.” In the addiction recovery world, this always means that SUD is present in addition to one or more mental health disorders.

The links between substance use and mental illness can be very complex. The two are inextricably linked. On the one hand, people with mental health issues tend to abuse drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate. On the other hand, people with SUD may develop mental health problems over time. Substance abuse and mental disorders are often a chicken-and-egg situation; regardless, the two can influence and inform each other.

Dual diagnosis has become prevalent. Research shows that about half of all people with a mental illness will also struggle with SUD at some point in life. Similarly, about half of all people with SUD will also have a mental disorder during their lifetime.

What Challenges Does Dual Diagnosis Bring?

Mental illness and substance addiction may present challenges when only one condition exists in isolation. Occurring together may create additional challenges. For example, it is difficult to diagnose whether certain issues are due to mental illness, substance use, or both.

Treating people with a dual diagnosis can be challenging. Because these two conditions are closely associated with each other, a backslide in one area may cause a relapse in the other. As the conditions are co-occurring, treatment for both conditions should happen concurrently, and these situations require specialized care. Not only should these two conditions be treated simultaneously, but health professionals also need to plan for complicated interaction scenarios.

Dual diagnosis poses more barriers to treatment than just having one condition. People with dual diagnoses may suffer double doses of stigma, which makes many people self-isolate. Getting them to agree to treatment can be very difficult.

How Can Both Conditions Be Treated?

Accurate diagnosis and early intervention are key. Even people with dual diagnoses are not a homogeneous group. They may display varying signs and symptoms, depending on their unique combination of substance use and mental health disorders. The duration and severity of their co-occurring disorders are also factors that affect treatment.

Recovery experts have developed specialized services to support people with dual diagnoses. The best treatment is a highly individualized and integrated approach. While health professionals try to carefully diagnose a person’s mental health issues and SUD, treatment methods need to be applied simultaneously. They also need to consider the interaction effects.

An integrated approach often includes medications, individual counseling, peer support groups, lifestyle modification, and sometimes family-based therapy. People with a dual diagnosis need more frequent aftercare management so that their ongoing recovery can be carefully monitored. Research shows that integrated treatment can improve psychiatric symptoms and quality of life.

Can Deeper Causes of Dual Diagnosis Be Treated? 

People with dual diagnoses may suffer from traumatic distress that worsens both conditions. Trauma is a common influencer in both mental health issues and SUD. This is why health professionals must understand a client’s history when assessing them for treatment. In situations when trauma plays a dominant role, their integrated approach also needs to be a trauma-informed one.

Dual diagnosis treatment seeks not only to detox the body of harmful substances but also deals with underlying issues as part of relapse prevention. Co-occurring disorders often take longer to treat than single diagnoses because one must learn coping skills for triggers and cravings for substance use as well as tools to manage their mental health disorder. Even after a treatment plan is completed, dual diagnosis clients need long-term maintenance plans so that deeper causes like trauma, family history, and brain chemical imbalances can be addressed.

How Can I Find the Right Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center?

Those with suspected dual diagnoses need a medical team with expertise and experience in specialized dual diagnosis assessment and treatment. Both the addiction recovery staff and the mental health experts should be actively involved in each case. They need strong staff support like case managers and recovery coaches.

Mental health, substance abuse, social health, and physical wellness are all tied to one another. This is especially critical for people getting treated for multiple co-occurring disorders. These people should find a treatment center that can help them in multiple areas of their life, including aftercare.

A dual diagnosis can be scary. Watching a loved one struggle to decide what to do when they have SUD and a mental illness can be tough. Laguna Shores Recovery has experience with dual diagnosis and the resources to treat it. We have found the best long-term recovery for those with dual diagnoses involves an integrated treatment approach. We understand the importance of treating mental health and SUD concurrently and specifically tailor treatment plans accordingly. Our compassionate, highly credentialed staff provides a safe, structured environment, where clients can be supported—and support others—as they go through the recovery process. Several members of our treatment team have personally traveled the road of recovery, so they are uniquely qualified to guide others with understanding and compassion. Early intervention is critical. Call (866) 229-9923. We will be happy to talk with you about short-term and long-term planning.