What is Dual Diagnosis?

what is dual diagnosisYou may have heard about people with drug/alcohol addiction suffering with depression, but what is dual diagnosis? Dual diagnosis is when a person is officially diagnosed using a specific set of guidelines with both a mental illness and addiction.

Approximately 9 million American have dual diagnosis, also referred to as co-occurring disorders. It’s been said that roughly 50% of people who are dealing with addiction, are also dealing with some form of mental illness. (It can also be said that 50% of those diagnosed with a mental health disorder also have a substance abuse problem.) Common mental illnesses that are associated with addiction are mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety or depressive disorders, psychotic disorders and other psychiatric disorders.

It’s often difficult to know whether addiction or mental illness began first. For some people, they experience symptoms of mental illness and end up turning to drugs or alcohol (or a combination of drugs and alcohol) as a way to alleviate their symptoms. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol will in reality make their symptoms worse. Others exhibit signs of addiction first, and the mental illness symptoms begin later on.

How is dual diagnosis treated differently than addiction alone?

Symptoms of addiction and mental illness can present in similar ways. Many people with addiction suffer from severe mood swings, episodes of hopelessness and sadness, delusions or hallucinations, and even suicidal thoughts. Many of those symptoms are also present in people with mental illness. Mental illness and addiction are both serious and need to be treated in the best way possible.

Because drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness both have medical issues associated with them, a person with dual diagnosis needs to receive very specialized treatment in order for their recovery to be successful. The more we learn about dual diagnosis, the more we realize how intertwined addiction and mental illness can be. An integrated treatment plan that treats both mental illness and addiction is the best option for treatment. An integrated treatment plan for dual diagnosis may include psycho-pharmacology, behavioral management therapies, psychotherapy, and support groups, or a combination of these therapies. Treatment for addiction alone, depending on the rehab facility, may not include all of those components and if a rehab program doesn’t offer dual diagnosis treatment, their staff may not be skilled in seeing the warning signs or symptoms for dual diagnosis.

When a person has been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, their overall health and safety risks are greater. While withdrawal from drugs/alcohol is a valid medical concern, the concern for suicide, self-harm, harm to others is also present more frequently in people with dual diagnosis.

Finding a rehab with a dual diagnosis program is imperative to successful treatment. If a rehab facility doesn’t have the capability to treat dual diagnosis, the person in treatment may not receive adequate care, education and recovery skills in order to maintain a long-term recovery since addiction and mental health illness are so intertwined, but also so difficult to treat. It’s also crucial that the rehab have a detox services on site with medical staff available 24/7. Withdrawal from alcohol and drugs can be dangerous, even fatal, without the appropriate medical care. Combining withdrawal with symptoms of mental illness makes the necessity of medical supervision even more important.

If you, or a loved one or friend are dealing with addiction, with or without dual diagnosis, contact an addiction counselor at Ocean Hills Recovery in Dana Point, California today for help.

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