When an individual suffers from both a mental health disorder and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, the simultaneous occurrence of these disorders is known as a dual diagnosis.
These conditions aggravate each other. This can severely diminish the effectiveness of treatment that addresses only a single condition, or even render such a treatment approach ineffective. Dual diagnosis treatment is important to increase the chances of long-term recovery.
Because of the connection between the two conditions, both need to be treated at the same time. This comprises the dual diagnosis approach, which offers integrated treatment options. Dual diagnosis treatment is an essential step toward improving the lives of those dealing with mental health illness and substance abuse.
What is Different About Dual Diagnosis Treatment?
Dual diagnosis treatment accommodates the overlapping nature of mental illness and addiction. It provides integrated assistance for each condition, which helps patients gain control over addiction and restore good mental health simultaneously.
Treatment programs designed only for substance abuse are not recommended for people who also have a mental illness. Patients who undergo addiction therapy that does not address their mental illness are likely to experience worsened symptoms or even a relapse.
Similarly, treating only the mental illness, without addressing substance abuse disorders, will have an equally ineffective result. Drugs or alcohol can trigger mental health symptoms, like depression or anxiety.
While the person is under the influence of the drug, it is hard to distinguish its effects from those produced by the mental illness. This complicates the treatment process, making real progress difficult.
Typical Treatment Options
Since symptoms of one disorder can mimic the symptoms of the other, determining a dual diagnosis must be performed by qualified professionals. For this reason, the first step is a thorough and careful assessment.
Once an assessment has confirmed the presence of both a mental illness and substance abuse, a strategy can be established for integrating care and moving the patient toward recovery.
Each treatment plan will be tailored to the specific needs of the individual, but a dual diagnosis approach typically involves the following components:
- A critical first step is breaking the cycle of addiction and removing the controlling presence of any abused substances.
- Inpatient Rehabilitation. For those with serious mental illnesses, inpatient rehabilitation may be necessary. This allows around-the-clock medical and mental health care until severe or dangerous symptoms are under control.
- Both mental illness and addiction disorders may benefit from various medications. Some can alleviate symptoms produced by mental illness, enabling treatment to move forward effectively. Other medications are helpful in easing withdrawal symptoms and promoting recovery.
- Therapy is almost always an integral part of an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven effective for helping people learn how to cope and how to change debilitating thinking patterns.
- Support Groups. Support groups provide important help overcoming feelings of isolation and helplessness. Patients share frustrations and successes, as well as tips and resources about what works best during recovery. Friendships are also formed, which provide a source of ongoing encouragement.
Medications for Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis treatment plans often involve the use of medications to assist in recovery. Medications can be beneficial but must be carefully managed and closely monitored by health care professionals.
The major categories of medications used in dual diagnosis treatment include:
- Antipsychotic Medications. These medicines are used to help manage agitation, hallucinations and delusions, especially those caused by schizophrenia. Common examples include thorazine, Haldol, Abilify and Zyprexa.
- Antidepressant Medications. Brain chemicals can be regulated and balanced, helping to manage symptoms of depression. These medications include Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil, Cymbalta and Effexor.
- Anti-Anxiety Medications. Phobias, panic disorder, PTSD and other anxiety illnesses produce symptoms such as rapid heart rate, trouble sleeping, irritability and sweating. These can be effectively treated with medications like Xanax, Valium and Buspar.
- Anti-Withdrawal Medications. For alleviating unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal and detoxification, medicines such as buprenorphine, suboxone, Librium or methadone are commonly used.