What Is Dual Diagnosis (aka Co-Occurring Disorders)?

In the rehab context, co-occurring disorders – also referred to as dual diagnosis – are when a person suffers from both substance addiction and a mental disorder.

Those who are afflicted by a mental health disorder often turn to substances like drugs and alcohol to either cope with their pain or because the substance temporarily alleviates the symptoms of the mental illness. In fact, research suggests that more than half of those struggling with addiction also have a co-occurring mental disorder.

Understanding whether someone’s addiction is due to a mental illness or some other cause is critical, because it greatly affects the type of treatment a person needs.

At Reflections Recovery Center, our admissions screening and intake processes help us understand the unique needs of every person so that we can make sure they get the appropriate treatment, and our staff is highly qualified to serve dual diagnosis clients.

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It can be difficult to determine if a mental disorder is behind a substance abuse problem, because symptoms of addiction can be confused with symptoms of mental illness, and vice versa.

People who know they have a mental disorder may not recognize that substance use has gotten out of hand – because they’re focused on the mental illness. They may feel better when they are using, especially if it involves prescription drugs, such as a benzodiazepine that treats anxiety.

On the other hand, people who don’t know they have a mental disorder because they’ve never been formally diagnosed may think that their substance abuse issues are due to personal failings when, in fact, there is more going on under the surface.

Those with mental health disorders who self-medicate with drugs or alcohol may find temporary relief from their symptoms, but this prevents the person from getting professional help, and over time can make the mental illness even worse.

What Are the Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders?

Substance abuse can occur in conjunction with any type of mental disorder. However, some of the most common mental health issues that we see paired with addiction are:

How a Dual Diagnosis Affects Addiction Treatment

All substance abuse has an underlying cause. In some cases, that cause is a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, a personality disorder or any number of other mental illnesses.

Effective addiction treatment always seeks to not only rid the person of the physical addiction, but also to address whichever emotional and psychological factors led the person to substance abuse in the first place. But when a mental disorder is present, things get more complicated.

Mental illnesses not just “in your head” like other psychological causes of substance abuse. Mental disorders have a physical component that affects the brain’s normal functioning, which then impacts the person’s thoughts and feelings.

As a result, effective addiction treatment must address the physical aspects of the mental illness as well as the physical addiction and the emotional and behavioral components.

For a person without a co-occurring disorder, addiction treatment typically proceeds in this linear order:

  1. Detox program to rid the body of the harmful substance
  2. Therapy/counseling to discover and address the psychological factors and possibly trauma that led the person to substance abuse
  3. Life skills education to build better habits for long-term wellness, while constructing a social support group

However, for those with a co-occurring mental disorder, both the addiction and the mental illness must be treated at the same time. This requires specialized expertise that not all treatment centers can provide.

How Does a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center Address Both Conditions?

Clients suffering from mental illness as well as addiction require an integrated treatment program – one that treats both the mental disorder and the drug or alcohol addiction at the same time.

Because the two issues are so closely interrelated, they can’t be addressed separately in an effective way. Relapse is common when treatment only addresses the addiction and not the mental disorder.

However, it is more challenging to treat co-occurring disorders than addiction alone, and this requires a psychiatrist who is experienced in differentiating the symptoms caused by mental illness vs. symptoms caused by addiction.

At Reflections Recovery Center, we employ a highly qualified team of psychologists and medical professionals who are able to meet the special requirements of our dual diagnosis patients. Because each client is unique, we tailor our treatment plans to each person so that we can give them the best possible chance of long-term recovery and wellness, no matter their mental health challenges.

Do You or a Loved One Need Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders?

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