According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 7.7 million American Adults have experienced a co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder. Of the approximately 20 million adults with a substance use disorder, 37.9% of them also had a mental illness occurring simultaneously. Of the 42 million adults with a mental illness, 18.2% of them had a co-occurring substance use disorder.
As you can see, a co-occurring disorder, which is often referred to as a dual diagnosis, is common in those with substance use disorders and mental illnesses. It can be difficult to determine which came first — the substance use disorder or the mental illness — which is why it has become so imperative for mental health professionals and addiction specialists to treat both conditions at the same time for optimal results.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
A dual diagnosis occurs when a person is experiencing both a substance use disorder and a mental illness at the same time. Mental health conditions common to those using substances include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and trauma. These are serious conditions and many times individuals will use substances to cope with difficult feelings.
Substances often interfere with the effectiveness of medications designed to help mental illness, causing individuals’ increased substance use and perpetuating a ceaseless cycle of impairment. The daily situation for a person grappling with an untreated dual diagnosis grows worse over time, as both the symptoms of the substance use disorder and the mental illness increase in number and severity. Without appropriate treatment, experiencing improvements in mental health or substance use are difficult to achieve.
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Signs and Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis
Many times it is extremely difficult to distinguish between mental illness and problematic substance use. While these conditions can appear similar, some signs and symptoms to be aware of include:
- Participating in risky behaviors (driving while under the influence, having unprotected sex)
- Sudden and unpredictable changes in mood and behavior
- Inability to control how much of a substance they consume
- Impulsive or irrational behaviors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Neglecting physical health and appearance
- Using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of a mental illness
- Suicidal ideations, tendencies, or behaviors (including self-harm)
These are some of the most common symptoms of dual diagnosis, however they can vary based on the type of substances that a person is using and what mental illness they are experiencing.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis treatment involves addressing both the substance use disorder and the mental illness simultaneously, though many programs will only treat one of these conditions, requiring people to switch facilities and work with an entirely new treatment team. But Birmingham Recovery Center believes clients should receive the therapy, medication, and support necessary to begin feeling better and making progress in their lives. Under this approach, individuals looking for dual diagnosis treatment receive what is known as integrated services.
Integrated services focus on treating both the mental illness and the substance use disorder at the exact same time. The core elements of this approach include:
- Coordinated care — Our experienced therapeutic staff work alongside the medical director to develop and implement a multifaceted treatment plan that includes psychotherapy and medication. This plan is updated and revised throughout a client’s treatment to tailor interventions as their recovery evolves.
- No separation of care — In the past, a substance use disorder would be treated in one setting while a mental illness might be treated in another. Today, individuals with a dual diagnosis can receive the full amount of care they need at one facility. Most importantly, this allows clients to maintain relationships with their treatment team and their peers in recovery throughout the treatment process.
- Bundled interventions — In addition to group therapy, clients are matched with individual therapists who are skilled at addressing and resolving issues based upon their specific needs. Issues such as trauma, depression, and anxiety can receive specific attention during individual therapy while new skills and support are provided in a group setting.