The process of getting off drugs or alcohol and staying off of them can be one of the most difficult challenges an addict will ever face. It is necessary for the substance abuser if they want to lead a healthy and productive life but a challenge just the same.
This process can be even more difficult in cases where the user has other underlying emotional or psychological issues that get in the way. If left unaddressed these underlying issues can lead to relapse and keep the addict stuck in a vicious cycle of self-medication. For drug or alcohol addicted individuals who also have co-occurring disorders help can usually be found through a dual diagnosis drug treatment center. With the proper care clients with co-occurring disorders do recover and maintain long-term abstinence just like everyone else.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) dual diagnosis is, “a term used to describe people with mental illness who have coexisting problems with drugs and/or alcohol.” This creates a complex relationship that is more complicated than treating either condition on its own. NAMI goes on to say that the situation is common and that many people who experience mental illness have ongoing substance abuse problems, and that many people who abuse alcohol or drugs also experience mental illness.
NAMI cites recent scientific research that indicates that nearly one-third of people who struggle with mental illnesses and approximately one-half of all people who battle severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder also experience substance abuse problems. In the same way more than one-third of heavy drinkers and more than half of drug abusers are also considered to have some form of mental illness.
These percentages are so high that they are hard to dismiss, and understanding the relationship between addiction and mental illness can better explain why the disorders go hand in hand for some individuals. The following are some of the ways that substance abuse and mental illness affect each other:
- Some individuals who have untreated or improperly treated mental illnesses may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication. This substance abuse may seem to help with conditions such as anxiety or depression while the person is high. Unfortunately this high state is unsustainable and while the user may temporarily feel relief these substances do nothing in the way of treating the underlying issue. Often when the drugs or alcohol wear off the condition is actually made worse.
- This worsening of the underlying condition can manifest itself in many ways. For example if a person with anxiety is abusing heroin to treat themselves they may experience relief during the intoxication phase of use but then experience panic attacks during withdrawal. Using heroin in this case has exacerbated their anxiety and thus created a much more difficult condition.
- For a person without mental illness drug and alcohol use can cause on onset of symptoms for the first time. This could go both ways in that it may be a substance-induced reaction or the first episode related to a mental illness for that individual
- If a person has mental illness using substances of abuse will always make their condition worse. If a person has substance abuse problems the onset of mental health symptoms will always make those worse.
Many medical professionals consider the complicated dual diagnosis relationship to be one in which both issues must be confronted separately. By taking care of both the substance abuse or dependence issues and the underlying mental health problems, a patient is given their best chance for success.
Don’t Most Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Centers Offer Dual Diagnosis Treatment?
The types and models for treatment are varied amongst different treatment centers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) advocates for all treatment centers to employ mental health specialists but the service is not required. In their report Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders NIDA outlines effective ways for treatment centers to provide integrative care for individuals who have a dual diagnosis, but participation is not guaranteed.
The NIDA guidelines can also create a situation where drug treatment centers may claim to address dual diagnosis issues, but in reality don’t necessarily focus on it. If you are looking for drug addiction treatment and mental health services it is recommended to fully investigate what the center actually provides before making your decision.
On the other hand, there a wide variety of addiction treatment programs designed specifically with dual diagnosis in mind. These centers fully comply with the national guideline. In order to be best helped by one of these centers it is imperative to disclose all the mental health, substance abuse, and physical health problems you are experiencing. The only way the program will be able to help resolve these issues is if they have a full understanding of what your individual needs are.
Dual diagnosis treatment can be effective to resolve substance abuse and dependence issues and help to resolve underlying mental health issues that may trigger relapse. NIDA offers advice to treatment administrators for providing essential service for people with co-occurring disorders which include:
- Screening, assessment, and referral for persons with co-occurring disorders
- Physical and mental health consultation
- Prescribing onsite psychiatrist
- Medication and medication monitoring
- Psycho-educational classes
- Double trouble groups (onsite)
- Dual recovery self-help groups (offsite)
NIDA also points out that group therapy in substance abuse treatment is usually a key feature of treatment, but in cases of co-occurring disorders should be augmented by individual counseling as well. Individual contact is important in helping a client with a dual diagnosis make maximum use of the group therapy sessions, and will better guide the treatment process. NIDA also stresses the importance of the family’s influence on recovery and recommends that a dual diagnosis treatment center should try to involve the family as much as possible in the rehabilitation of their loved one.