Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens

Receiving a dual diagnosis can be difficult to accept at first, but there is hope and help available. With proper treatment, there is every reason that you or your loved one can go on to live a fulfilling life without being plagued by an addiction or by the symptoms of a mental health condition.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is when a person has both a mental health condition (such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder) and an addiction (such as alcoholism or addiction to video games). The two issues often go hand-in-hand; roughly half of all people experiencing addiction also have a mental disorder, and vice versa. As a result, it can be difficult to determine which came first, the mental health condition or the addiction. This is also called Co-occurring Disorders.

Thankfully, treatment options for teens and young adults with dual diagnosis are varied. However, the availability of many treatment options can make finding the right treatment feel confusing at first. Read on to find out more about dual diagnosis, how it is treated, and how you or someone you love can get help with a mental health condition, addiction, or both.

Determining the Issues

While the addiction part of the dual diagnosis might be rather obvious, determining which mental health issue or issues are at play can be complicated. This is because the symptoms of addiction can often mimic some of the same symptoms of mental health conditions. Substance use can also mask some of the symptoms of the mental health condition. For instance, a person suffering from clinical depression who also has an addiction to stimulants may appear energized and excitable rather than depressed.

During treatment for addiction, you can expect to be screened and evaluated for various mental health issues. Sometimes, a teen is diagnosed with one mental health issue, but afterwards, a different diagnosis or even additional diagnoses may be reached. This is not uncommon so you want to ensure that you have the best dual diagnosis treatment available for the conditions that you or your young adult child may have.

Why Treat the Mental Health Issue?

You might wonder why an addiction specialist will want to treat mental health issues in addition to an addiction. Mental health issues are often closely linked to addictions. Treating only one issue when there is a case of dual diagnosis can drastically increase the chance of a relapse. This means that if you or your teenage child has depression or anxiety in addition to an addiction, choosing not to treat it will often result in a relapse of the addiction.

There are two ways that addiction and mental health conditions are linked. The first is that an untreated or undiagnosed mental illness can cause teens and adults to want to self-medicate with substances or destructive behaviors. In this case, the alcohol, drug, or behavior raises endorphin levels and helps you temporarily feel better.

As time goes on, however, the behaviors or substances themselves can make people feel more anxious and depressed. All the while, a tolerance builds to the addictive substance, reducing its ability to make the user feel better. In many cases, this leads to the user consuming the substance in higher, more dangerous quantities to achieve the desired effect. Thus, a cycle that has the potential to both worsen the addiction and mental health issues a person is dealing with begins.

How a Dual Diagnosis is Treated

Treating a dual diagnosis can be tricky. It is important to find out exactly which mental health conditions correlate with the person’s addiction. It can be impossible for a practitioner to know whether a person’s symptoms are stemming from the addiction or from the mental health condition. As a result, each patient with a dual diagnosis is a unique puzzle. With each patient, a care provider needs to ask: where should treatment start and what should it entail?

Dual diagnosis treatment often takes longer and is more intensive than the treatment for either an addiction or a mental health condition. It is also important to remember that the individual might have more than one mental health condition. As treatment progresses, it will often become apparent that there is an additional mental health condition present.

Treatment typically takes place in a residential facility in order to provide the most immersive experience. It will include medical detoxification if the person is addicted to a substance. Intensive counseling, group therapy, and even family therapy may also be part of treatment. 

Expressive arts therapies such as art therapy or equine therapy may also be incorporated into the treatment. Some peoples’ treatment might include medication, though every person’s case is unique. A professional addictions specialist will work with the individual and, in many cases, their family to create an individualized treatment plan.

Steps Often Taken During Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The first thing that will happen when you or your teen goes for dual diagnosis treatment is a detox from any substances. This might take place in a hospital or a rehabilitation center. There are some substances that can make detoxification very uncomfortable or even dangerous, so symptoms will be carefully monitored to keep you as comfortable as possible.

If you are dealing with an addiction to a behavior, an inpatient environment will help you avoid the behavior.

If you are doing an outpatient treatment, you will need to learn strategies for eliminating the behavior while also being treated for the mental health condition that is affecting you.

The treatment for the mental health condition or conditions outside of the addiction will vary depending on what specific condition you have. Here are some treatments that might be applicable:

  • Lifestyle changes. Of course, one major lifestyle change is that you won’t be using your vice any longer. If you suffer from depression, you might be urged to spend time outdoors, exercise, and get enough sleep. These measures can help manage anxiety as well. Lifestyle changes can often help bring symptoms under control and work well when used in conjunction with other types of therapy and treatment.
  • Therapy. You will receive counseling and therapy for your addiction treatment, and you may also have separate therapy sessions for your mental health condition. It could be cognitive behavioral therapy, didactic therapy, group therapy, family therapy, art therapy, equine therapy… the possibilities are nearly endless. A residential facility often provides the widest variety of therapy options.
  • Support groups. A support group can help you stay accountable and share your burdens, setbacks, and progress in a non-judgmental environment. Support groups are invaluable for teens and young adults struggling with an addiction. They can also be helpful for those with various mental health issues as well as for those with a dual diagnosis.
  • Medication. Some substance addictions can be treated with medication. Many mental health issues can also be treated with medication. The combination of drugs you receive will be tailored to the conditions you have, your previous medical history, and other factors. Often, medication is used in conjunction with therapies, support groups and lifestyle changes. In many cases, the introduction of proper medication can make the other components of treatment more effective and achievable.
  • Alternative therapies. Some people have good results when alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery are added to their regimens. These can often be done at home, but it is important to combine them with other treatments. You cannot treat a dual diagnosis solely by trying these alternative therapies; think of them as complementary lifestyle changes, not as treatment.

Getting Help for Dual Diagnosis

If you think you or your teen has a dual diagnosis, it’s important to see a primary care physician immediately. They can screen for both addictions and various mental health disorders. It is important to remember that if you are in the throes of an addiction, it will be difficult for even a specialist to determine exactly which mental health conditions you have at the same time. So if your primary care doctor does not diagnose your mental health issue, understand that a misdiagnosis at this point is common. A specialist will be able to get to the bottom of what is ailing you once you have your addiction treatment underway.

You might need to be hospitalized to go through medical detoxification in some instances, and residential or outpatient may be necessary. Know that these steps will make your recovery process go more smoothly and can reduce the risk of a relapse. With excellent care and hard work on your part, you should have every reason to believe that you will soon be on the path to recovery.

If you suspect that you or your teen may have a dual diagnosis, or you have already received one from your primary care physician, we can help. Contact Paradigm Treatment today to see how we can help you manage and overcome your dual diagnosis with effective treatment options.


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