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Challenges in Diagnosing and Treating Dual Diagnosis

Do you feel hopeless and alone as you struggle to control your addiction? Do you turn to drugs and alcohol to manage your mental health? If these questions describe your situation, it might indicate the presence of a dual diagnosis. Let’s explore dual diagnoses in depth to understand their signs and symptoms, the most effective treatment strategies, and the advancements that offer hope to those suffering from these co-occurring disorders.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

If a person receives a dual diagnosis, it means they suffer from a mental health condition and a substance use disorder simultaneously. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), some of the most common mental health conditions seen in dual diagnoses include major depressive disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dual diagnoses occur more often than you might think. Approximately half of the people diagnosed with a mental health condition also battle addiction.

Signs and Symptoms

Since mental health and addiction overlap in many ways, how do you know if you are dealing with a dual diagnosis? Here are a few signs and symptoms that you should discuss with your doctor or mental health professional:

  • Difficulty focusing on your daily activities
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Sudden mood changes that you can’t explain
  • Engaging in potentially harmful behaviors
  • Unusually high tolerance for drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop using drugs or alcohol on your own
  • Feeling as though you need drugs or alcohol to get through your day
  • Suicidal thoughts
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These signs and symptoms are not an exhaustive list; you do not need to experience all of them to receive a dual diagnosis.

Understanding the Risk Factors

Several things, many of which are not under your control, can put you at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder in conjunction with a mental health condition. If any of these apply to you, monitor your physical and mental health for changes that could indicate a dual diagnosis.

  • Family history of substance use disorders or mental health conditions
  • Low sense of self-esteem or negative image of yourself
  • Exposure to harmful substances while in the womb
  • A history of stressful or traumatic events
  • Self-medicating to relieve the symptoms of a mental health disorder

In addition, although both men and women are impacted by mental health conditions and substance use disorders, research shows that males are more likely to require treatment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Plans

The most effective treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders is tailored to the individual. It is important to remember that treating one aspect does not mean the other aspect will disappear. Addressing both issues at the same time increases your chances of success. 

Dual-diagnosis treatment plans may include inpatient or outpatient programs. Although your specific plan is unique to your situation, most treatments include some combination of the following:

  • Medically monitored detoxification to gradually wean off of harmful substances
  • Prescription medications to manage withdrawal effects and treat certain mental illnesses
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Group housing for newly sober individuals
  • Support groups
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Dual Diagnosis Treatment Challenges

Facilities that treat mental illnesses and substance use disorders concurrently are crucial in managing a dual diagnosis. Unfortunately, many programs focus on one aspect, but few facilities effectively treat both. 

Another challenge in dual diagnosis treatment is the rate of relapse. Even after treatment, research shows that people with a dual diagnosis are at a higher risk of relapse than those diagnosed with a mental health condition or a substance use disorder independently.

Advancements in Dual Diagnosis Research

Physicians and behavioral health professionals now realize the intense connection between mental health conditions and substance use disorders, and recent discoveries in dual diagnosis research reflect this idea. Evidence-based practice shows an integrated treatment approach, rather than the traditional approach that isolates these related conditions, results in higher treatment success rates. Integrated treatment includes screening tools that identify dual diagnoses, a multidisciplinary model, and recovery focusing on setting, working toward, and achieving healthy long-term goals.

A Holistic Approach at Mind Body Wellness

Are you struggling with a mental health condition, a substance use disorder, or a dual diagnosis? At Mind Body Wellness, we don’t simply treat conditions. We treat people. Our dedicated staff will customize a treatment approach that puts you in a favorable position to live a productive life. Contact Mind Body Wellness today to learn how our holistic approach leads to long-term success.