Dual Diagnosis Treatment and Recovery

The term dual diagnosis is used to describe people who have problems with substance misuse and severe mental health problems co-occurring at the same time. Common psychiatric problems associated with dual diagnosis include:

  • Bipolar disorder, depression and other depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), other anxiety disorders and phobias
  • Personality disorders, schizophrenia, and other psychiatric disorders

The risk of misusing substances is significantly increased when suffering from a mental health diagnosis. For example, someone diagnosed with schizophrenia is about 10% more likely than an average person to be misusing drugs or alcohol. It is commonplace for people who are affected by such disorders to be vulnerable and to not receive the appropriate form of care.

What are the symptoms?

Substance abuse and mental health problems affect people psychologically, physically, spiritually and socially. Dual diagnosis symptoms can affect relationships with others and limit someones ability to function in a way that is perceived by most as ‘normal’. The symptoms of each diagnosis can interact making each of them worse, in turn making a relapse more likely.

mental health puzzle

It can be difficult to make an accurate diagnosis when the symptoms of psychotic illness and drug induced psychosis overlap. It is therefore essential that any recommendation for treatment is made by a psychiatrist or doctor.

If you know someone with a mental illness who is abusing drugs or alcohol, or you suspect someone who is abusing substances is showing signs of mental illness, you should talk to them about an assessment of their mental health and explore treatment options with them.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Most psychiatrists and addiction professionals agree that mental health problems and substance misuse should be treated at the same time. Research into combined treatment suggests that psychotic episodes and suicide attempts are reduced, but treatment for people with dual diagnosis is typically very complex in nature and often long-term.

The most successful treatment approach is one that is integrated and takes into account the various factors of an individual’s unique circumstances.

Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes provide dual diagnosis treatment, but the extent to which it is integrated into a treatment plan depends on the rehab centre and their experience in dealing with co-occurring disorders.

Rehabs for treating drug addiction and alcoholism should develop a personalised plan that seeks to address all of the issues related to the addiction and the underlying factors of a mental health disorder such as depression, trauma or anxiety.

Successful long-term recovery is only attainable if all co-occurring conditions are tackled from the beginning of any treatment plan that is initiated.

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Maintaining Recovery

Recovery maintenance plays an important role in all treatment approaches for addiction, but where dual diagnosis is concerned, the importance of aftercare cannot be overstated. Factors that can lead to a relapse are more prominent when mental health problems like depression, ADHD, anxiety, and compulsive disorders are present.

psychiatrist explores treatment options

If the psychiatric disorders are not addressed by the time someone is discharged from treatment, there is an increased risk of relapse and a return to compulsive behaviours.

By addressing the underlying psychiatric disorders at the same time as an addiction, the patient can plan for a future.

When necessary, they can be referred to a clinician for continued aftercare and monitoring once a rehabilitation programme has been completed and the patient has been discharged.