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Dual DiagnosisDual Diagnosis – A Simple Definition

According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), dual diagnosis “is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously.” Dual diagnosis is also commonly referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a co-morbid disorder.

Having a problem with drug or alcohol addiction AND a mental health disorder like bipolar, PTSD, anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia can be especially difficult for those who want to stay sober. People who are dually diagnosed face unique challenges. To enjoy ongoing sobriety, they have to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol while treating their condition with the help of a mental health professional.

The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that in 2014, approximately 17.5 million Americans had some kind of mental illness and 7.9 million Americans met the criteria for a dual-diagnosis. More than half of these people (approximately 4.1 million) were men.

This is the most current data available, although experts believe the number of men and women with a dual diagnosis has steadily increased since 2014. Sadly, approximately 50 percent of all people who are dually diagnosed never seek help.

**Self-Medication is A Common Practice Among Those With Mental Health Problems **

Many people who suffer from a substance use disorder do not know that have a problem with their mental health. They have become so accustomed to living with their condition, they may be in denial that it even exists. Others have been diagnosed by a mental health professional. In either case, those who live with a mental illness experience at least some debilitating symptoms.

Here are some examples:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Nightmares (especially common with PTSD)
  • Insomnia
  • Withdrawal from important relationships (isolation)
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Psychosis

These can be difficult to cope with, which often fuels the need for drugs or alcohol. This is called self-medicating. Whether a mental disorder has gone undiagnosed or it is recognized by the person who has it, the use of drugs and alcohol is often pursued as a way to manage or lessen symptoms.

However; studies have shown that drug and alcohol abuse actually make the symptoms of a mental health condition much worse. So, with time, the addiction gets completely out of control and the person who has been self-medicating is in worse shape than when they started.

By the time many people who have co-occurring disorder seek help, they have experienced a complete mental breakdown. This can make the recovery process that much more challenging.

The Challenge of Recovering from a Dual Diagnosis

Chronic drug and alcohol abuse produces many of the same symptoms as mental disorders. It can be difficult for a mental health care provider to effectively identify which experiences are caused by the substance abuse and which experiences are related to mental health. For this reason, many people who seek help from a psychiatrist are misdiagnosed.

Too often, addicted people are prescribed medication and sent on their way by an uninformed psychiatrist (which sometimes happens because the patient is not upfront about their substance abuse). And, after leaving the doctor’s office, the addicted person continues to experience difficulties as a result. They do not get any relief from their symptoms and they continue to abuse drugs and alcohol.

This is why a dual diagnosis addiction recovery program is so important.

AToN Centers Offers Specialized Dual-Diagnosis Treatment For Our Clients

Here at our San Diego addiction treatment program, we believe in addressing all aspects of the recovering person. We understand that clients who face some kind of chronic mental health condition need a customized treatment plan that focuses on healing their addiction AND their disorder. To treat only the addiction OR the mental condition would be a setup for a relapse. This is why we offer our dual-diagnosis treatment program.

When clients come to see us, we complete a full assessment to determine if dual diagnosis treatment is necessary. If it is, we create a custom treatment plan designed to address the mental health diagnosis AND the addiction problem. This includes extensive counseling and the introduction of relapse prevention techniques designed with mental health in mind.

We take a clinical approach to dual diagnosis treatment with the use of evidence-based methodologies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). We also incorporate a holistic approach that complements this type of treatment. We believe those who are dually diagnosed can greatly benefit from implementing holistic practices and coping skills into their every day life.

There is No Shame in Having a Dual Diagnosis

We feel it is important to mention that there is no shame in having a mental health disorder. Unfortunately, we live in a world that still very much stigmatizes mental health. This can make it difficult for people who have conditions like bipolar, depression, or PTSD to come forward and admit that they need help. This is tragic. These disorders are simply diseases of the mind, just like diabetes is a disease of the body.

Our compassionate, caring, and highly trained professional staff at AToN Center is here to help those with a dual diagnosis so they can learn to live a joyous life in recovery. Having a mental disorder does not make anyone inferior, weird, threatening, or “bad.” It makes them sick. And, we can help.