When an individual has a mental disorder as well as a problem with substance abuse, the presence of these two conditions is known as a dual diagnosis. A person with a dual diagnosis has two separate and distinct illnesses, and each illness needs to be recognized and treated appropriately.
Dual diagnosis is a fairly common occurrence: A report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that up to one-half of individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder also suffer from some form of addiction. Studies that examine the issue from the opposite perspective reveal similar statistics, with 30 to 50 percent of individuals with an addiction also exhibiting the clinical symptoms of a mental disorder.
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In some cases of co-occurring disorders, a psychiatric problem manifests itself first. In an attempt to self-medicate and numb painful emotional symptoms, individuals often turn to drugs or alcohol. Using these substances may provide temporary relief for their symptoms, but it can also develop into a full-blown addiction. For some individuals, a drug or alcohol abuse problem develops first. The difficulties that accompany substance abuse and addiction can cause serious psychological effects and lead to mental illness.
Individuals who are dealing with depression are particularly susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse. Although these substances are used in an attempt to boost the individual’s spirits, many of them actually act as a depressant and can make mental symptoms worse. Other disorders that frequently occur alongside an addiction are anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Physicians may have difficulty determining if a patient’s primary problem is a mental disorder or substance abuse. The symptoms of substance abuse often resemble those of other psychiatric disorders, so it may be necessary to wait until the patient has gone through a medically supervised detoxification process before attempting to diagnose an underlying psychiatric problem.
Once detoxification is complete, the two co-occurring disorders can be treated. Ideally, both illnesses should be addressed at the same time. Treatment for an addiction usually includes individual counseling, group therapy, education about addiction and participation in 12-step groups. The goal of these therapies is to teach participants how to lead a drug-free life and handle triggers that may lead to relapse.
Treatment for the co-occurring psychiatric disorder will depend on the diagnosis. In most cases, individual and group counseling is recommended, and medications may also be prescribed. Support groups comprised of individuals with the same condition can be very helpful. A treatment plan that integrates therapy for both disorders can reduce the risk of relapse among recovering addicts and keep them on the road toward long-term recovery.
Completing detoxification and rehab are big steps in an individual’s fight against addiction, but many challenges remain after they leave the treatment center. The initial weeks and months following treatment can be difficult, and the risk of relapse is high. When a mental health disorder accompanies addiction, the odds of relapse are even greater. The support and services provided by an aftercare program can help reduce the risk of a relapse and keep an individual committed to a drug-free life.
Aftercare programs focus on relapse prevention, which teaches a recovering individual how to recognize triggers and learn how to manage stressors and cravings. Individuals learn that a single lapse in their recovery doesn’t have to turn into a full relapse.
Support groups play an important role in most aftercare programs for dual diagnosis patients. These groups give participants the chance to share their experiences with the unique challenges of recovery and provide valuable moral support.
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