Many people who struggle with addiction are completely unaware that they may be suffering from more than one addiction, or that there are other issues in play that may make recovery more difficult. For those who have co-occurring issues, treatment needs to be handled differently. So what is a dual-diagnosis and how do you treat it?

What is dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is when someone suffers from both a mental disorder and an alcohol or drug addiction problem. These conditions frequently occur together but are often misdiagnosed. This can mean a person has a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression), anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, OCD, sleep disorders, and more, and a problem with alcohol or drugs. According to a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.9 million people in the U.S. experience both a mental disorder and substance use disorder simultaneously. More than half of those people are men. A person who has a dual diagnosis has two separate illnesses, and each illness needs its own treatment plan.

Substance Use and Mental Illness Among Adults

Source: SAMHSA

How do you diagnose if someone has co-occurring disorders?

A dual diagnosis can be tricky to diagnose in treatment because substance abuse or even addiction treatment can mask symptoms of a mental disorder. Substance abuse can also trigger mental disorders that have lain dormant for years, or make existing mental illnesses worse. In many cases, the drug or alcohol addiction started as a mask to cope with mental health issues. Someone struggling with PTSD, for example, may start drinking heavily to cope with their mental anguish. Professionals are finding many more cases of dual diagnosis with patients and only a professional addiction treatment center can effectively treat these illnesses separately while understanding and addressing the connection between the two. Psychiatric behaviors can mimic behaviors associated with alcohol or drug problems. Dysfunctional and maladaptive behaviors that are consistent with drug or alcohol abuse and addiction may have other causes, such as psychiatric, emotional, or social problems. Multidisciplinary assessment tools, drug testing, and information from family members are critical to confirm these disorders.

Can you treat these issues separately?

Many treatment centers do not understand how mental illness can contribute to substance abuse, or know how to treat them. Some treatment programs believe it is best to avoid the use of any drug while treating addiction. However, for many mental disorders, prescription psychiatric medication may be the best solution for treatment. Chronically relapsing addicts suffering from co-occurring disorders often do not receive the treatment they need. Because of the complications caused by their co-occurring disorders, they fail to resolve their addiction.

Trying to treat an addict’s mental disorders without addressing their substance abuse will also end in failure. It can even make one or both problems worse. Medications prescribed can be dangerous if taken alongside alcohol or other drugs, or become addictive themselves. Due to the stigma of both addiction and mental disorders, people with dual disorders may  hide one problem even while seeking treatment for the other. Even doctors who are aware of a mental patient’s addiction may avoid or ignore the issue because they do not have the knowledge or desire to treat it. The best treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention, when a person receives care for both their diagnosed mental illness and substance abuse. The idea that “I cannot treat your depression because you are also drinking” is outdated—current thinking requires both issues be addressed.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness outlines a course of action for those who may suffer from dual disorders, though it’s up to the addiction facility to diagnose and design treatment in an integrative fashion:

At Scottsdale Recovery Center, we pride ourselves on our cutting-edge research and treatment for co-occurring disorders. Our team of highly educated doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and staff are very adept at treating co-occurring disorders and our program is one of the top in the country in relapse prevention.

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Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 602-346-9142.

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