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How to Properly Treat a Dual Diagnosis or Co-Occurring Disorder

What is the best way to treat a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder? This is a question that experts have asked for several years. A few decades ago, it became evident that most people with addictions suffered from mental health conditions. As a result, a different approach to treatment was needed. At that point, the term dual diagnosis was coined. Individuals with co-occurring disorders need a specific type of treatment to help with recovery. Actually, a personalized approach is what is needed in order to give people what they really need.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis Explained

Quite often, people who suffer from a mental illness also suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism. When this occurs, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder, or a dual diagnosis. These can be difficult to diagnose, but diagnostic methods have vastly improved over the years. It is critical for both conditions to be addressed and treated at the same time. In doing so, patients have found to have much better long-term outcomes. Integrated treatment methods have been put into place all across the United States for this reason.

The Connection Between Drug Addiction and Alcoholism and Mental Health

Sometimes the addiction itself can lead to the dual diagnosis. However, what usually happens is that people turn to substance abuse because of their mental health condition. This is because, at least for a short time, drugs and alcohol can help with symptoms. This is a way for people to self-medicate.

Most Common Types of Co-Occurring Disorders

There are some types of co-occurring disorders that are much more common than others. These include the following:

Depression and Substance Abuse

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of discontentment
  • Excessive feelings of guilt
  • Hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping too much
  • A poor appetite and weight loss
  • Excessive crying and social isolation

For those struggling with depression and addiction, it seems natural to want to get relief. This is often done by turning to drugs or alcohol.

Anxiety and Addiction

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Excessive amounts of stress and worry
  • Becoming easily irritated
  • Commonly experiencing unwanted or racing thoughts
  • Having an unrealistic fear
  • Feelings of impending doom

People with anxiety will frequently suffer from panic attacks as well. Sometimes drugs or alcohol can help people feel better, but only for a short time. Eventually, symptoms may become even worse.

Bipolar Disorder and Addiction

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include:

  • Frequent mood swings
  • Disorganized thoughts and behaviors
  • Acting impulsively
  • Harming oneself, or thinking about it
  • Problems with concentration
  • Experiencing delusions

Bipolar disorder is one of the most unpredictable mental illnesses. Having this condition can cause a great deal of stress in a person’s life. Naturally, people often turn to substances to relieve their symptoms.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

Symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) include:

  • Having frequent flashbacks of traumatic events
  • Becoming socially isolated
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Feeling emotionally detached
  • Frequently experiencing unwanted thoughts

For someone with PTSD, it can feel like a prison sentence. Alcohol and drugs are commonly used to help improve symptoms, even if the improvements are only short-lived.

Addiction Treatment Options for Patients with a Dual Diagnosis

Fortunately, anyone with a dual diagnosis has a lot of options for addiction treatment. There are many types of drug rehab and alcohol rehab that have a co-occurring disorder focus. This means that the right type of treatment must be decided upon by each, individual patient. Still, it can help to know what the different options are.

Inpatient Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Many patients turn to inpatient treatment for co-occurring disorders. For those who have a dual diagnosis, this can be an excellent option. During inpatient treatment, patients stay at a facility for about a month. While they’re there, they meet with a therapist who will treat them. The cause of the addiction will receive treatment. If it is unknown, it will be discovered and diagnosed at this time.

Outpatient Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

There are many outpatient treatment options for people with a dual diagnosis. Some people simply aren’t ready to commit to spending more time in treatment. Others may have addictions that are more mild than severe. For these individuals, outpatient treatment can be quite beneficial. Most people find that it’s harder to recover from co-occurring disorders in an outpatient setting. This is because appointments are so infrequent.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment During IOP Programs

Many people find that IOP programs offer them a “middle ground” type of treatment. These programs do not require an inpatient stay, yet they are intensive and supportive. During intensive outpatient treatment programs, patients attend their appointments regularly. They may be seen several times during the week for different types of therapy. IOP programs offer a distinct advantage, in some opinions. Not only are patients able to get help, but they’re also able to immediate practice what they learn.

Methods of Treatment for Someone with a Dual Diagnosis

It’s important to understand how addiction is treated alongside a dual diagnosis. There are several different methods that work well. However, each patient should be assessed for the proper treatment methods for him or her. Everyone is different, as far as what they need.

Intensive Addiction Therapy

Therapy is often thought of as the cornerstone or building block of addiction treatment. This is especially true when someone has a co-occurring disorder. The therapist will assess the individual for any pre-existing mental health conditions. Once the underlying cause of the addiction is determined, the right therapy can be chosen. Typical methods of therapy for co-occurring disorders include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Dialectical Therapy
  • EMDR Treatment

Group Therapy for Mental Health Issues and Addiction

Working within a group setting has been seen as one of the most beneficial forms of therapy. In this way, group participants help and support one another. They share experiences with each other, and they learn from those experiences. It is often during this time that new friendships are formed. This can be especially important for someone with a dual diagnosis. It helps to know that they’re not alone, and that there are others facing the same challenges. Group therapy is highly recommended for anyone with a co-occurring disorder.

Family Therapy and Support for Dual Diagnosis Patients

The family should be the strongest support system a person has. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. The mere presence of a co-occurring disorder can quickly break families apart. This often leads individuals to go even deeper into their addictions and mental illnesses. One of the goals of dual diagnosis treatment should always be to rebuild the family unit. Important relationships often become strained as a result of co-occurring disorders. With the right family support, families can learn to understand why the dual diagnosis is in place. They also learn how to offer help and support to their loved ones.

Do You Have a Co-Occurring Disorder or a Dual Diagnosis?

You may wonder if you are suffering from a co-occurring disorder yourself. It may surprise you to know that many people aren’t sure. However, you can look for some common signs of a dual diagnosis:

  • Feelings of sadness that only get better when you drink or use drugs
  • Feeling the need to use alcohol or drugs to help erase painful memories
  • Believing that you can’t control your moods without substances
  • Using drugs or alcohol as a way to face difficult situations
  • Having problems with your relationships or your job because of drugs or alcohol
  • Having a history of trauma, but self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
  • Struggling to focus or finish tasks because you feel the need to drink or use drugs

If any of these apply to you, you may have a co-occurring disorder.

Alcohol and Drug Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnoses is Available

Many people with co-occurring disorders are surprised to find out they have them. It can be shocking for you to find out you have a dual diagnosis. Maybe you’ve never really thought about the fact that your addiction and your mental health condition could be linked. Now that you’re considering it, it does make a lot of sense. Even so, you still need to know where to go for the best dual diagnosis treatment. Quite often, an IOP program is an excellent choice for co-occurring disorders. This program offers an excellent amount of support, yet it also provides flexibility. Many people with dual diagnoses find IOP programs to be just what they needed for recovery. At The Northpoint Seattle, we’ve worked with many people with dual diagnoses. We know the challenges that go along with these mental health conditions. We also know that those challenges are magnified when an addiction enters the picture. Treating your addiction separately is likely to result in a relapse. We can help you avoid that with the best co-occurring disorder treatment options. Are you looking for proper treatment for your co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis? We can assist you with getting the help you need. Please contact us to get help, or more information.

Sources: (8, March 2016). Co-Occurring Disorders. Retrieved from:"" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer external" data-wpel-link="external">