Dealing with Dual Diagnosis in Your Teen

If you are a parent or caregiver of a teen who is struggling with addiction, you might also find out that your teen is depressed or anxious. Or that they have another type of mental illness in addition to their addiction. When someone struggles with two illnesses at once, it is called dual diagnosis.

Addiction is often not a stand-alone illness. There are reasons that might keep a teen using drugs again and again, which contributes to an addiction. For instance, teens may be depressed or anxious and they may feel the need to use drugs to mask their pain or to do well in school. In other cases, a teen might have started with the addiction first. The worsening cycle of addiction and its effect on the body and the brain can cause certain changes in the brain that trigger depression, anxiety, or other disorders. Common examples of mental illness that accompany an addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Experts are unclear about whether addiction or mental illness tends to come first. However, in the case of depression, both illnesses tend to make the other worse. In fact, when mental illness accompanies addiction, there many aspects of recovery that are important to include. Whether it was the addiction or the mental illness that came first, both need to be treated simultaneously.

Teen Dual Diagnosis Treatment

When teens struggle with two forms of illnesses, it can be particularly challenging. In order for recovery from addiction to be effective, it needs to be thorough and complete, meeting all your teen’s needs. If you want to help restore your teen’s life, ensure the components to their recovery addresses all the areas of their life. To do this, make sure to look for adolescent addiction treatment that also addresses other psychological illnesses. For instance, the following are types of treatment services that can assist your teen in recovery:

  • Alcohol or Drug Detox
  • Addiction Treatment
  • Drug Counseling
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psycho-education
  • Psychiatric Medication
  • Medical Attention
  • Family Therapy
  • Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Case Management
  • Self Help Programs
  • Other Social Services, such as Community Integration
  • Well Being Modalities like Meditation or Yoga

It’s important that teens get the services that address their disorders. Sometimes, with a dual diagnosis (having two illnesses at once) there can be obstacles to recovery. For instance, these can include:

  • Addiction treatment did not teach teens with healthy coping tools for a person to rely upon instead of using drugs and alcohol when life gets stressful.
  • Teens did not receive psychotherapy to explore past traumas or other challenging experiences that may trigger the use of drugs, and that might also contribute to the mental illness
  • Other services that a teen needs to heal from a psychological illness which may be underlying an addiction are absent from the addiction treatment services

Yet, with a full range of dual diagnosis treatment services, a teen is more likely to restore their life to health. For instance, psychotropic medication can help balance out the chemicals in a teen’s brain which in turn help stabilize their mood. If a teen is taking psychotropic medication, they will likely see their psychiatrist at least once per month in order to ensure their medication is working for them.

Additionally, because mental illness as well as addiction can place hardships on family relationships, family therapy is also recommended as a part of a teen’s comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment. Teens can also attend support groups such as 12-step meetings and other activities that put them in touch with a group of people who are struggling with the same illnesses. In fact, it’s important to remember that treatment doesn’t only include drug counseling, medication, psychotherapy, and support groups. Teens should be encouraged to engage in self-soothing and nurturing activities, such as taking a bath, going for long walks, spending time with those you love, and meditation and/or prayer. Treatment for teens might also need to include recreational activities, such as hiking, going to the movies, playing board games, and even a day-long road trip. It’s just as important for teens to have fun in recovery as it is for them to learn, grow, and change.

In time, as both illnesses begin to heal, your teen is likely to start feeling better. And you and your family will also experience the benefits of treatment.

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