The co-occurrence of substance abuse issues and mental health conditions can make both problems difficult to treat. The facts are that approximately 50% of people who suffer with severe mental illness also wrestle with some type of substance abuse problem. More than 30% of those who abuse alcohol also have at least one mental health problem. And more than 50% of people who abuse drugs also have a mental health condition. These facts lead to what is now called dual diagnosis treatment. These are treatments specifically designed to treat both mental health and substance abuse problems at the same time.
The complexity of treating someone who suffers from both addiction and mental illness demands a specific strategy for recovery. While those who wrestle with a substance abuse disorder may benefit from treatments which follow fairly well known programs of recovery. Those with a dual diagnosis disorder face particular challenges. Simply removing the substance from their lives in the course of a traditional program that demands abstinence may complicate a vastly more complex disorder such as depression, OCD, or PTSD. These types of patients have specific needs and require a specific regimen of treatment. Likewise, any attempt to treat the mental health problems without taking addiction into consideration is likely to be ineffective.
In many cases, the psychological problems precede the substance abuse problem and are likely what fueled substance abuse in the first place. For some people, the mental health problems may have developed in childhood or adolescence which they then tried to treat by self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol. In other cases, the effects of substance abuse either brought on a psychological problem like severe depression or severely complicated a pre-existing issue. In any event, both the addiction and the psychological disorder require treatment. One problem is unlikely to get better without treating both at the same time.
In the most general terms, dual diagnosis treatment is practiced through a series of staged interventions. Many people who are suffering from both addiction and mental health problems are unable to participate in treatment programs in the same way as someone who deals with addiction only. The motivation necessary to begin treatment may well be inaccessible to them. For this reason, establishing a real trust with clients is the first order for treatment professionals. These interventions are stepped up as trust and willingness are established. At this point counseling and social support interventions can be introduced which directly involve clients with treatment.
From this point, dual diagnosis treatment is determined by the specific types of addiction and mental health issues. The decision to use medication, for example, will depend on the type of substances the client has been abusing and the type and severity of the psychological diagnosis.
The problem of co-occurring issues is now better understood than ever before. The unique and specialized treatments are also more available. People who are struggling with co-occurring mental illness and addiction have a much better chance for recovery now that the science of treatment has adapted to a more comprehensive understanding of how best to treat this complex issue.
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