Dual Diagnosis Recovery What it is & What to look for

I’ve been a drug addict and suffered from mental health issues for many years, and I’m here to tell you that dual diagnosis recovery is possible.

So, what is dual diagnosis? Dual diagnosis, also referred to as co-occurring disorders, is a term used when a person has a mental disorder as well as substance abuse disorder.

An example of dual diagnosis would be a bipolar person who is also addicted to alcohol and crystal meth. Chances are very likely that if a person has a mental health disorder that they are also abusing drugs, including alcohol.

This condition worsens over time if it’s left untreated.

Dual Diagnosis Recovery Is More Difficult Than Traditional Recovery

Treating co-occurring disorders makes rehab stays and treatment much more complex. Opinions vary as to the best possible way to treat this condition.

In the not too distant past, many mental health professionals treated each disorder separately. Fast forward to today, and you’ll find that many believe both disorders must be treated simultaneously and have even created dedicated programs to do just that.

The Stigma of Mental Health and Drug Addiction

There is a stigma associated with both of these disorders, but probably more so with substance abuse disorder.

Society at large treats people addicted to drugs as outcasts. There is an ignorant belief that drug addicts are just weak-minded people who do bad things.

This leads to mass incarceration of these individuals who commit non-violent crimes in order to feed their addiction.

The stigmas associated with co-occurring disorders leaves patients feeling ashamed and worthless. This often leads these individuals to not seek treatment because they feel as if there’s no hope of them getting better.

Dual Diagnosis Recovery is Possible

Learn about The Hope House’s specialized mental health and substance abuse program today.

Signs of Dual Diagnosis

A psychiatrist or addiction specialist can diagnose you as someone with dual diagnosis. There are certain signs and symptoms to look for that may indicate you (or someone you know) are suffering from co-occurring disorders.

Getting out of bed or even putting on socks may be difficult and seem like an impossible task. This leads to isolation.

Isolating from friends and family can be a sign of depression, and it will certainly make it worse. People may find it difficult to talk to anyone about being depressed for the fear of being misunderstood. Saying, “just smile” or “get over it” is not helpful to someone who may be clinically depressed.

Anxiety disorders also make it hard for people to interact with others which also leaves them feeling alone.

Many turn to “self-medicating” behaviors in order to calm down and relax. Perhaps they get a prescription for Xanax or score benzodiazepines on the street.

Nonetheless, these types of drugs are highly addictive. If a person feels “flat” emotionally, they may turn to a stimulant such as cocaine or crystal meth to help them feel “happier” in the short term.

So now a person thinks they are treating their mental disorder with a drug, and it seems to work at first. However, Xanax can stay in the system long enough to make a person addicted to it, they will experience more of what the drug seemed to treat.

So a person who’s become addicted to xanax may feel worse panic attacks than ever before when they are not under the influence of the drug. The same is true of a stimulant abuser.

They may stay up for days feeling manic while under the influence, but as soon as they come down, they feel extremely depressed and may sleep for days.

So as you can see, when these conditions occur simultaneously, they make each other worse.

A person with co-occurring disorders, especially those with bipolar disorder, may also indulge in high-risk behaviors, such as high-risk sex, driving recklessly, breaking into buildings, whether to steal something or not, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, etc.

Extreme mood-swings coupled with excessive alcohol abuse is another example of a sign of dual diagnosis.

It’s tricky however because when a person is abusing drugs, their behavior and feelings may mimic a mental disorder, such as bipolar depression.

So how is dual diagnosis treated?

Treating Mental Health

If you or someone you know has co-occurring disorders that make their life extremely unmanageable it’s probably time to go to an inpatient facility, such as a drug rehab or psychiatric facility.

Finding a place that treats both substance abuse and mental disorders is ideal.

When a person gets admitted into an inpatient program, they need to first go through detox from the substances they are abusing. What the patient was using and how much they were using will impact how short or long the detox period will last.

Some facilities will even try to keep these patients off their prescribed psychiatric meds at first to determine if their mental health diagnosis is correct or if their behavior and feelings were only caused by substance abuse.

Once a patient has gone through the detox process, it’s important for them to engage in programming that is offered by the facility they are in. This will usually include lectures about substance abuse and mental disorders, group counseling, and one-on-one counseling sessions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is the most common therapy used for people with dual diagnosis.

CBT helps address and change cognitive distortions. Improvement of emotional regulation along with helpful coping strategies for everyday life are all a part of the CBT approach.

Helping people see that they have control of their perception helps them to be healthier, happier, and most importantly, more content.

Seeing a psychiatrist along with programming is also extremely important. While a person is inpatient, they can be observed by a doctor, medication can be prescribed, their progress can be monitored, and medication can be tweaked as needed.

So what about the treatment of the substance abuse part of the puzzle? Well, this is where I’m going to give my opinion based on personal experience.

Treating Substance Abuse

There are many ways to treat substance abuse, especially for those with a dual diagnosis. At The Hope House, you’ll receive a personalized approach to treatment. Other facilities offer the popular 12-step method, which works for some.

I can back this up from my experience that by working the 12 steps, an addict can experience a psychic change, lose the desire to use drugs and alcohol, and live a fulfilling meaningful life while helping other people.

There are many components that can ensure the successful treatment of co-occurring disorders.

They include:

  • Inpatient treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Regular psychiatrist and therapist visits
  • Taking medications as prescribed and always under the care of a doctor
  • Sober living
  • Working a 12-step program or attending self-help groups such as Smart Recovery
  • Continuing care treatment, which is usually a small group session held 1 day a week for an entire year
  • Participating in sober social events
  • Participating in service activities such as working at a soup kitchen or taking A.A. meetings into hospitals and institutions

As a person who deals with co-occurring disorders, I can tell you that when fully engaging in the components listed above, dual diagnosis recovery and a happy fulfilling life are possible!

About the Author

Adam Fout spent years struggling with addiction and depression, and now hosts a blog to help people get into recovery, like he did. He is a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop and has been published in The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, J Journal, Pulp Literature, and DreamForge. Read his blog on addiction and recovery at adamfout.com or follow him on Twitter @adamfout2.

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