Dual diagnosis refers to people that have been diagnosed with a mental illness in addition to a chemical dependency of some kind. A chemical dependency makes treating mental illness more difficult, and likewise having a mental illness makes addiction treatment more complicated. Dual diagnosis treatment is of course more intensive than normal chemical dependency or mental illness treatment.
While all that sounds grave, it’s often not as bad as it may seem and dual diagnosis treatment is often effective. It is estimated that at least half of everyone suffering from an addiction also has some form of mental illness, and people with a mental illness are much more likely to become addicted to a drug, so the two frequently go hand in hand.
The reasons for this can be quite simple; if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder and don’t realize it, you’ll find yourself drawn to sedatives and alcohol all your life without ever really knowing why. They just seem to make you feel better, or ‘normal’. Say you are depressed; you’ll likely find some uppers and drugs that play on serotonin to make you feel better. This kind of self-medication is why the two conditions are so often linked, and much of dual diagnosis treatment focuses on this cause/effect relationship.
The good news is just about every decent drug treatment program and/or mental illness treatment facility is fully aware of this relationship, and dual diagnosis treatment is offered by both of these types of programs. If you find yourself in a program that does not offer any form dual diagnosis treatment, I would seriously consider leaving and finding a new program.
Usually, one of your conditions is labeled as the ‘primary’ condition that needs to be treated first. More often than not, it’s the addiction, but more serious forms of mental illness may require focus first. So the very first step of dual diagnosis treatment is usually figuring out what the nature of your mental illness is, and how serious your addiction is.
Some treatment programs are especially known for their dual diagnosis treatment, and have specialized on this treatment niche. If you have any say in the matter, look for programs like this if you’re a dual diagnosis patient. Additionally, there are a lot of support groups and therapists that are specialized for dual diagnosis treatment.
Don’t let your ‘dual diagnosis’ status scare you away from seeking treatment! Keep in mind that MOST people with addictions are dual diagnosis patients even if they aren’t aware of it. Sometimes, being dual diagnosis is actually a benefit. For example, if you know you drank because of an anxiety disorder, treating your anxiety will also treat your addiction.
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