For anyone facing a substance addiction –or those who love someone with a substance problem – one of the most common questions they ask is “Why? Why is this happening?” While the underlying causes of any addiction vary by individual, for some, mental disorders go hand-in-hand with addiction.

Personality disorders, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are all frequently associated with addictions; in some cases the addiction is caused by these mental issues, while for others, the addiction may cause the psychological problem. Whichever issue comes first, though, whenever there is a dual diagnosis both illnesses need to be treated in order to increase the chances of lifelong

sobriety.

 

About Dual Diagnosis

According to the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, more than 50 percent of those who have a serious mental disorder abuse drugs or alcohol, as compared to just 15 percent of the general population. For those living with anxiety, depression or other psychological issues, drugs and alcohol help them cope, temporarily reducing the symptoms of their disease.

However, those dealing with a dual diagnosis often have serious issues as a result of their condition. Studies show that violence, especially domestic violence, is more common among those with a dual diagnosis, suicide attempts are more common and there is a higher incidence of sexual abuse among those who have both addiction and mental disorder issues.

The problem is that the addiction can actually mask the underlying disorder or vice versa. In fact, medical professionals point out that making a dual diagnosis is often difficult because of this, especially when addicts use their mental disorder to avoid dealing with the addiction.

On the flip side, some people choose to deal with the addiction rather than the mental disorder, out of fear or embarrassment that they have a serious and often maligned issue like schizophrenia. In either case, careful evaluation or a comprehensive treatment program is necessary in order to successfully deal with both issues.

 

History of Dual Diagnosis

While people have struggled with mental disorders and addiction for decades, it wasn’t until the 1980s the health professionals began to seriously look at the correlation between addiction and psychological problems. Up until that point, patients did receive dual diagnoses, but the treatment was separate. And today, recovery programs have not fully integrated treatments for substance abuse and mental health. In fact, many patients still have to receive treatment for their illnesses from separate agencies.

A common issue for those facing a dual diagnosis is that many substance abuse rehabilitation programs aren’t equipped to handle patients with serious underlying mental disorders – or the rehabilitation program may be detrimental to the patient’s psychological state. For example, many rehabilitation programs discourage reliance on medication, instead insisting on complete freedom from chemicals. In some cases, though, medication is a necessity, helping the patient overcome the mental disorder and thereby decreasing the need for illicit substances.

 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Programs

While there are some programs that fully integrate treatment for mental disorders and substance abuse, in many cases, the lack of a comprehensive program means that the patient, or his or her loved ones, needs to advocate for complete treatment.

In general though, there are some characteristics to look for in an effective treatment program, including:

  • A gradual approach to recovery
  • An emphasis on illness and the medical aspects of recovery
  • An emphasis on social networks and support
  • An understanding of the role of medication in recovery
  • Lack of confrontation or emotional “jolting” of patients, understanding that the coercive methods that are effective with other addicts may be too harsh for someone facing a dual diagnosis

Patients that enter a dual diagnosis drug rehab programs with these characteristics are often more successful in their treatment than traditional programs. However, certain aspects of traditional rehabilitation are still necessary, including detoxification, group and individual therapy, as well as ongoing support.

Doctors and researchers are making great strides in understanding addiction and how to treat it. As treatment programs begin to understand the nature of dual diagnosis, they are developing integrated rehabilitation plans for patients with underlying mental disorders, all in an effort to help those struggling with addiction recover and live a sober, productive life.

 

Jillian Thompson is a full time mother and Adviser for DrugRehab.org.  She is passionate about helping people successfully complete their rehab programs and going on to lead fulfilling, sober lives.

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