Did you know that it’s possible to have more than one diagnosis for a mental health disorder? According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, about half of all those who live with a mental illness also develop substance use disorder (SUD). For those struggling with substance abuse, this can be a real problem that can make an already complicated disorder more complicated. However, treatment options have improved over the last couple of years, bringing more education to the public about this tricky but common diagnosis, known as dual diagnosis.
What Is a Dual Diagnosis?
A dual diagnosis is when someone with SUD has a second diagnosed mental health disorder. Common secondary mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Sometimes it is the mental disorder that develops first, and sometimes it’s the SUD that develops first. The severity of this disorder can range wildly. Sometimes it can have a small impact on a person’s daily life, but other times it can be so severe that it makes life difficult. Regardless of severity, it causes negative problems that can become noticeable to themselves or others.
What Causes Dual Diagnosis?
Many things can cause someone to develop both SUD and a mental health disorder. Sometimes it is caused by someone trying to self-medicate to cope with a symptom of another disorder by abusing substances. For example, using alcohol to numb the pain of living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Abusing a substance can outright change the structure or chemistry of the brain. This can cause someone to develop a mental disorder, especially when special chemicals in the brain become imbalanced.
Some people are more likely to develop both SUD and a mental health disorder due to genetics or environment. Stress, grief, and tragedy are common examples of what may lead someone to develop one or the other. Anyone can develop a mental health disorder at any time, and about half of those will also experience dual diagnosis.
How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated?
A dual diagnosis can make treatment tricky, as both disorders need treatment simultaneously for the best chance of recovery. Therefore, dual diagnosis treatment requires a customized plan to suit the needs of the person seeking treatment. Not all facilities are equipped to treat dual diagnoses, so it is important to message or call a treatment center to find out if they can offer such treatments.
Diagnosis May Require Multiple Attempts
Dual diagnoses may be tricky to treat, but they are treatable. It can take several attempts to find the right treatment. However, there are several kinds of treatment options one can look into. For severe cases, one may try a residential treatment program, such as a rehab or live-in treatment facility. Advantages of residential treatment include having staff available to help and receiving support transitioning back to public life once treatment has been completed.
An intensive outpatient program is another program that can help with dual diagnosis. This allows someone to seek treatment while being able to stay at home and participate in usual activities, such as a job or spending time with family. A person can participate in talk-based therapies such as group therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Some may be prescribed medication to help reduce symptoms. Some may need to be introduced into a support network, where those also struggling can remind each other that they are not alone in their diagnosis. Treatments are as varied as the people seeking them out, and no two people or treatments are alike.
What Can Someone Do to Help?
One of the best things someone can do to help is to raise awareness of mental health issues and remove the social stigma about seeking mental health. It is important to remember that people who struggle with dual diagnosis are people who deserve help and compassion. Sometimes, understanding goes a very long way in encouraging a loved one or even yourself to pick up the phone to call for help. If you know someone who is struggling with SUD or a mental health disorder, listen to them. Let them know that they are not alone and they have support in their corner. Remind them or yourself that it is a brave thing to ask for help when you need it.
With new research being explored every day, one can keep up with breakthroughs in the mental health field by paying attention to official websites such as the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Together, those who live with dual diagnoses will no longer have to struggle in silence.
It is hard enough to live with substance use disorder and even harder with an active underlying mental illness. You may feel alone or ashamed to seek help, but at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we provide a staff of caring professionals waiting to offer judgment-free help. With us, you can expect effective treatment plans to give you the highest chance of recovery in your journey to take back your life. We provide thorough diagnoses and offer dual-diagnosis treatment plans. Sometimes you just need someone who understands what you are going through, and at Acera Health, we will help you build support networks so that you never have to go alone. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with dual diagnosis, don’t wait – get help now. For more information, reach out to us today and call (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.