What Is Dual Diagnosis? What Does This Refer to in a Treatment Program?

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis means the presence of both mental illness and substance abuse in an individual. Dual diagnosis can be a particularly challenging condition due to the fact that persons suffering from mental illness tend to abuse substances in order to self medicate. Mental illnesses may result from chemical imbalances in the brain, or significant traumatic experiences. It is common for people who suffer from addiction to attempt to self medicate this imbalance, or the residual effect of the trauma, with drugs or alcohol. This process further imbalances the brain’s chemistry, and the cycle continues to spiral out of control, since research shows that alcohol and other drugs worsen the symptoms of mental illnesses. Separately from that, the use of substances can also accentuate or bring about the onset of mental illness symptoms.

A National Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health estimated that nearly 8 million people suffer from a combination of mental illness and substance abuse. Many of the symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse are similar. People who have a mental illness or substance abuse disorder may experience withdrawal from family and friends, changes in personality, and engage in risky and impulsive, even self-harming behaviors. The similarities between mental illness and substance abuse can make dual diagnoses difficult to differentiate and treat. In fact, most healthcare professionals will not diagnose a drug or alcohol user with a mental illness until they fully detox off of the substance. It is necessary to observe the patient at a baseline to accurately diagnose the presence of a mental health disorder.

Dual diagnosis treatment is a specialized category that combines the treatment of both a mental illness and addiction. Treatment for dual diagnosis issues encompasses a holistic approach that addresses the complete person and is necessary for lasting recovery. Individuals who experience both a mental illness and substance abuse issues need treatment for each condition separately. An experienced treatment facility equipped with highly educated professionals in mental health and substance abuse is imperative for this healing journey to be productive. While mental illness and substance abuse may be separate issues that need to be treated as such, it is important that they be treated concurrently so that the behaviors of one do not interfere with the healing process of the other. In this way, a comprehensive, holistic treatment plan can provide relief from both ailments.

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