Adolescent Dual Diagnosis Treatment: What to Expect

Dual diagnosis is when an individual is diagnosed with both an addiction and another mental health issue. The addiction might be to a substance (such as alcohol, methamphetamine, or prescription pain pills) or to a behavior (such as compulsive gambling or internet addiction). The mental health issue could be depression, OCD, anxiety, or almost anything else. Treatment options for dual diagnosis are varied and can be tricky. Read on to find out what you can expect from dual diagnosis treatment.

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. In addition, substance use can mask some of the symptoms of the mental health condition.

During treatment for your addiction, you can expect to be screened and evaluated for various mental health issues. Sometimes, a person is diagnosed with one mental health issue and then either the diagnosis changes or there are additional diagnoses added to the first. This is not uncommon and it is just part of the process of making sure that you have the best dual diagnosis treatment available for the conditions that you have.

Why Treat the Mental Health Issue?

You might wonder why your addiction specialist will want to treat your mental health issue in addition to the addiction. The reason is that mental health issues are often closely linked to addictions. Treating only one or the other when there is a case of dual diagnosis will often cause you to relapse. This means that if you have depression or anxiety, 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 dealing with a mental health issue that is untreated can cause you to want to self-medicate with substances or destructive behaviors. In this case, the alcohol, drug, or behavior raises endorphin levels and helps you feel better temporarily. As time goes on, however, the behaviors or substances themselves can make you feel more anxious and depressed. Thus, a cycle begins and continues.

Steps Often Taken During Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The first thing that will happen when you go for dual diagnosis treatment is that you will need to detox from any substances that you are taking. 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 your 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 also 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 have depression, you might be urged to spend time outdoors, to exercise, and to get enough sleep. These measures can help with anxiety, as well. Lifestyle changes can often help bring some of your symptoms under control and work well when used in conjunction with other types of therapy and treatment.
  • Therapy. You will be receiving counseling and therapy for your addiction treatment, and you might also have separate therapy 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. If you stay in a residential facility, you will probably have access to many different types of therapies.
  • Support groups. A support group can help you stay accountable and share your burdens, setbacks, and progress. Support groups are invaluable for those struggling with an addiction. They can also be helpful for those with various mental health issues as well as for those with 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.
  • 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 dual diagnosis solely by trying these alternative therapies; think of them as complementary lifestyle changes, not as treatment.

Getting Help for Dual Diagnosis

Your first step if you think you have dual diagnosis is to see your primary care physician. He or she can screen you for addictions as well as for 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.

Your primary care physician can refer you to an addiction specialist and other mental health specialists as needed. Follow their recommendations when it comes to choosing residential or outpatient care for dual diagnosis treatment. You might need to be hospitalized to go through medical detoxification in some instances. 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.

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