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When people experience symptoms of mental health distress and seek treatment, they may expect themselves to be diagnosed with a particular condition. Preparing for a diagnosis is not easy, but sometimes labeling the problem at hand encourages people to get the individualized care that they need. In many cases, though, general symptoms can be associated with more than one type of condition or mental health diagnosis. Oftentimes people will try to self-medicate their symptoms with substance use, causing prolonged and severe symptoms of anxiety and distress. 

Consider a depressed person turning to substances in an attempt to lift their mood. Although they may experience relief from their mental health distress temporarily, they are worsening their depression with the presence of substance use. When an individual suffers from both, a mental illness and substance use or addiction, they will need a treatment program that targets both conditions simultaneously. This is the nature of dual diagnosis. 

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a term that describes the presence of both a mental illness and an alcohol or drug use problem simultaneously. Dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders (COD) are terms that are often used interchangeably. Individuals that suffer from this compound condition have very complex needs that pertain to the unique needs of each diagnosis separately. A dual diagnosis requires comprehensive treatment procedures to help an individual achieve sobriety from their substance use and symptom relief from their mental health condition. 

Mental illness and substance use affect people from every community, culture, and region. The link between mental health and substance use is difficult to understand, as it is challenging to locate the specific cause of each condition. 

On one hand, people that experience severe distress from their mental health condition may turn to drugs and alcohol to feel good or self-medicate. On the other hand, substance use can cause significant changes to the brain, causing mental health issues to develop or making existing mental illnesses worse. There is also the possibility that both issues begin at the same time and occur from increased risk factors, such as trauma or genetics, that contribute to the development of each condition. 

What Makes a Dual Diagnosis Challenging?

Every mental illness or substance use condition comes with its own independent triggers, cravings, and other challenges. When two conditions occur together, there are additional factors that can cause harm to the treatment and recovery process. It can be difficult and frustrating to know how or why each condition began. A dual diagnosis also may be challenging because:

  • substance abuse is a common symptom of most mental conditions, making it difficult to diagnose substance as a separate condition
  • symptoms of each condition are exaggerated through the negative effects that one condition has on the other
  • a person may experience lower levels of self-esteem and other factors that impact poor emotional health
  • a person may feel a greater disconnect with friends and family and especially struggle when it comes to relating to society
  • facing multiple diagnoses means facing more stigma
  • adverse reactions may be experienced from prescribed medications, as a medication that would be used to treat one condition may worsen the other
  • treatment is complicated due to the persistent and severe symptoms present, which increases the likelihood of treatment resistance
  • it makes it more difficult to maintain abstinence and long-lasting recovery

Everyone’s experience of a dual diagnosis will vary. The type of mental health problem along with the drug of choice and intensity of substance use will contribute to the severity of symptoms. All of these factors are combined differently in each person with a dual diagnosis, which impacts how a dual diagnosis is experienced and what is necessary for treatment. 

Treatment Options for a Dual Diagnosis

Thankfully, most mental health and addiction service treatment centers have become increasingly aware of the relationship between mental health conditions and substance use. This means that most professional services are reliable and knowledgeable about how to support the needs of those that experience a dual diagnosis. 

The best treatment option for those with a dual diagnosis is through an integrated and individualized approach to healing and recovery. Both, the mental health condition and the substance use issue are treated at the same time, by the same treatment facility or treatment team. The presence of collaborative care and case management is also important, as it encourages communication and collaboration from multiple mental health professionals that all specialize in different elements of mental health. 

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Services

Residential treatment services offer an opportunity to become fully immersed in a given treatment facility by living under their roof for a certain period of time. While treatment is your first step in recovery, knowing how to navigate life after residential treatment is also essential to help you get back on your feet outside of treatment. There are also outpatient treatment options that introduce you to therapy groups. Outpatient treatment is recommended for more mild cases of mental health distress. 

It is important that you understand the unique needs of each of your conditions as you go about receiving treatment. Support is waiting for you, and your time to heal is now. 

As with any new diagnosis, receiving a dual diagnosis can be overwhelming. This diagnosis can be even more challenging as it is difficult to locate the root cause or origin of each condition. When more than one mental health condition is present, symptoms can become exaggerated and make the healing process even more frustrating. Thankfully, current treatments for dual diagnosis are becoming increasingly responsive to the individualized needs of each condition. West Coast Recovery Centers offers dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring conditions, treating both conditions simultaneously. We have a large range of options for treatment, including inpatient and outpatient programs. We believe that individualized treatment is necessary to treat and recover from mental health illnesses and substance use. We have traditional and holistic treatment options to help secure your path towards long-lasting recovery. For more information about the treatments and other resources we offer, do not hesitate to give us a call today at (760) 492-6509

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