Substance abuse and mental illness are too often believed to be primarily separate issues. Many treatment centers choose to focus on one or the other, forcing clients to attend more than one center, or completely denying them the opportunity to achieve true, long-lasting recovery.
Dual recovery is treatment that focuses on managing a chemical dependency or substance abuse, along with an associated mental condition or illness. Before a person enters dual recovery, they often receive what is called a “dual diagnosis,” or suspect they are dealing with “co-occurring disorders.”
According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 8.5 million adults experienced a substance use disorder and mental illness in 2017. Alcohol and other drugs almost always worsen the symptoms of mental illness, and may bring an underlying mental illness to the surface. Someone already diagnosed with a mental health condition, meanwhile, may turn to alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication.
Regardless of which disorder emerges first, it is essential to acknowledge both, and access a comprehensive treatment program with expertise in dual recovery methods.
Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis
It is difficult to point out specific symptoms of dual diagnosis because there are so many combinations of how a mental condition and substance use disorder can interact. The symptoms of one may also either cause, or worsen symptoms of the other. Before you can reach a dual diagnosis, it helps to understand the disorders separately.
- Symptoms of substance use disorder may include:
- Feeling like you need the drug in order to function
- Developing a high tolerance for the drug so more of the drug is needed to reach the same effect
- Withdrawing from friends and family in favor of the drug
- Engaging in uncharacteristic, risky behavior while under the influence of the drug
- Failed attempts to stop using the drug
- Symptoms of a mental health condition may include:
- Extreme changes in mood
- Erratic, confused thinking and behavior
- Inability or desire to interact with others
- Significant changes in sleep and eating patterns
- Disorganized speech
Of course, these lists are far from exhaustive, and anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms should speak with a licensed mental health professional.
Beginning Dual Recovery
With so many overlapping symptoms of addiction and mental illness, treating these individuals is complex. Someone with a mental illness may be unlikely to follow the steps involved in a traditional drug rehab program. It may be more difficult to get them to take medication as prescribed, or to attend scheduled counseling sessions.
The most successful way to treat dual diagnosis patients is with a fully-integrated program that treats all aspects of the illnesses in a single location. Without properly addressing mental illness through the appropriate medication and therapy, any attempts to recover from addiction are ineffective. A dual recovery plan should be highly individualized, and include parallel treatment of a person’s mental health and substance use disorders.
Dual diagnosis treatment focuses on the following areas:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Impulse Control
- Personality Disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Anxiety or Panic Disorders
Since a dual diagnosis can impact a person physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually, treating it can be a long, complex process. Depending on the results of your unique clinical assessment, the treatment process may include:
- Intake interviews from mental health professionals to assess the psychiatric issues the patient is experiencing.
- Psychiatric/clinical diagnosis and assessment of the mental illness, as well as any medication prescriptions and general psychiatric counseling.
- Integration of addiction rehab based on the psychological evaluation.
- Treatment for the mind, body, and spirit such as massage therapy, yoga, nutritional counseling, equine therapy, and meditation. It is important for those experiencing dual diagnosis to find balance in their lives. Not all dual diagnosis rehab programs offer holistic care, but those that do enjoy high rates of success and low relapse rates.
- Coping skills that help the individual avoid triggers that may cause relapse.
- Aftercare programs to provide a support structure and accountability for the individual. The period after leaving rehab can be difficult and scary for anyone, but especially for a recovering addict with a mental illness.
At Viewpoint Dual Recovery Center, we believe that this holistic approach to treating individuals with dual diagnosis is the only way to create change that lasts.
In a study on dual recovery among people with serious mental illnesses and substance problems, researchers determined that “substance abuse treatment approaches that are flexible and reduce barriers to engagement among people with serious mental illnesses, support learning about the effects of substances on mental health and quality of life, and that adopt a chronic disease model of addiction are likely to be more effective at helping people to quit substances.”
Despite such research and knowledge of the relationship between mental illness and addiction, many drug rehab facilities are not equipped to handle dual diagnosis patients, and some mental illness facilities don’t have the expertise to treat addiction. The best results are seen when the tools and resources to treat both issues are under one roof, where specialists can easily communicate and develop the best possible plan for a person with a dual diagnosis.
Completing Dual Recovery
When you combine mental illness with a drug or alcohol addiction, treatment can take anywhere from a few months, to years. At Viewpoint, the minimum stay for a new client is 90 days, but the average length of stay is between six and 12 months.
While most people’s goal is to transition back to a manageable, sober lifestyle, every person and every diagnosis is different. Going beyond short-term success throughout the dual recovery process will take patience, compassion, and the right amount of expertise in both substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Take the time to find the right program for you. If you have questions or need help, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.