If an individual is struggling with co-occurring disorders, it is imperative that he or she seek treatment from a facility that specializes in dual diagnosis. Though mental health disorders and addictions were originally believed to be unrelated and were treated using radically different methods, professionals in the field now recognize the importance of addressing both disorders in tandem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services encourages integrated treatment of co-occurring disorders in a dual diagnosis setting.
When mental health disorders and addictions were treated separately, many who struggled with a mental illness never received help for their issues with substance abuse and many alcoholics and drug addicts never received help for their underlying mental health issues. There was a void in the health care system, which has now been filled with dual diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment has been shown to lower relapse rates and reduce the number of suicide attempts among those struggling.
The effectiveness of essentially all aspects of treatment for mental health issues and addictions are amplified when addressing the issues in a dual diagnosis setting. Medication therapy is more effective when the prescribing psychiatrist is aware of both issues at play. Group therapy can offer stronger support for those struggling when they can find commonality with others. It is also important to address the unique relapse triggers present with co-occurring disorders. For example, depression might be an individual’s trigger for his or her alcohol addiction. If staff is not aware of these highly sensitive factors at play, then treatment will be less effective. For this reason, staff at dual diagnosis treatment facilities have specialized training and qualifications.
Primary health care providers are the largest single point of contact for individuals dealing with co-occurring disorders. These physicians and nurses are able to screen an individual and identify what disorders might be present, then refer the person out to a facility or rehab center that specializes in dual diagnosis.
Prior to seeking treatment for an addiction (and co-occurring mental health disorder), it is essential for an addict to undergo the detoxification process. This can take place in an individual’s home or at a facility, though inpatient detox by a trained medical staff has proven to be more effective initially. Inpatient detox eliminates the patient’s exposure to the people and places that he or she might associate with usage or find triggering. With this kind of detox, the individual is monitored by a trained medical staff that keeps track of the withdrawal symptoms. Once these symptoms are manageable, the individual can move to the treatment phase to address the addiction itself and any co-occurring mental health disorders
Types of treatment
There are a variety of treatment options when it comes to dual diagnosis. Both mental health disorders and addictions are treated as chronic, relapsing conditions that for that reason require long-term support.
Residential treatment programs
Residential treatment programs provide supervised support in a structured environment. This type of treatment can be beneficial, as it removes distractions and triggers so an individual can focus on recovery.
Outpatient treatment is that which does not offer 24-hour supervision. This is ideal for individuals who are physically and psychologically able to take care of themselves during the evenings or weekends, when not in treatment.
Individual therapy has evolved in the past few decades to a non-confrontational, collaborative style that reinforces the client’s self-worth and prevents future relapses.
Group therapy provides individuals with a chance to share their stories with others who are in the same boat. They are also able to offer their help to others who are struggling, which adds another layer to the therapeutic nature of group therapy.
Holistic and alternative therapies
Holistic and alternative therapies have been introduced to help with mental health and substance abuse disorders, including acupuncture, massage, hypnotherapy and yoga.
Medications are used to help the symptoms of mental health illnesses (e.g. antidepressants) and anti-addiction medications assist in minimizing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. In a dual diagnosis setting, it will be beneficial for one psychiatrist to prescribe all medications.
Education and counselling
Education and counseling for loved ones is important in rebuilding an individual’s interpersonal relationships that have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the co-occurring disorders. Couples therapy and/or family therapy can provide the individual with a platform on which to mend these relationships.
It is important to not only find a treatment facility that will fulfill an individual’s needs while in treatment, but also one that provides ongoing support after he or she is discharged. Aftercare services are just as important as the services provided while someone is in treatment. These programs include support groups and recovery resources that will help minimize the likelihood of relapse and empower the individual to maintain recovery.