The best chance of success in supporting recovery when someone has both mental illness and addiction is to treat them as part of the same underlying problem. Using targeted therapies to manage both conditions simultaneously, can offer a complete solution and lead to sustainable recovery.
Treating each in isolation can be counterproductive. As the two diagnoses are so closely related, they can feed off each other, rendering separate treatment ineffectual.
What are common symptoms of dual diagnosis?
Both mental illness and dependence on substances will vary from person to person. Therefore, the way these conditions interact with each other is also highly personal. For example, depression can lead to alcohol dependency, and misusing alcohol can suppress mood to the point of depression.
Underlying causes are often complex and therefore the mental health and addiction tolerance of each patient can be extremely diverse. This is why individual assessments – by trained medical professionals – are crucial when someone shows symptoms of a dual diagnosis.
Some of the common features of mental illness and addiction overlap. They are generally as follows.
• Able to tolerate elevated amounts of alcohol and illicit or prescription drugs.
• Show signs of withdrawal when access to substances is restricted.
• Display irritability, anger and agitation with little provocation.
• Have rapid and extreme swings in behaviour and mood.
• Appear guarded, isolate themselves and are secretive or defensive.
• Engage in risk-taking behaviour or show poor decision making.
• Rapid and substantial mood swings.
• Poor cognitive ability – reasoning and concentration.
• Display periods of sadness or low self-worth, continuously.
• Suffer from hallucinations.
• Show signs of hypersensitivity, over-vigilance, anxiety or fear.
• Display uncharacteristic behaviour.
An individual with co-existing symptoms from both descriptions is likely to require a dual diagnosis. This makes it vital that they benefit from a properly managed and balanced treatment plan.
Dual diagnosis treatment and therapies
An individual plan to support someone with a dual diagnosis focuses on any underlying issues and addresses the relationship between their mental health and misuse of substances.
The treatment plan usually requires a multi-layered approach, to ensure the best possible chance of sustainable recovery. For some people, this would start with drug rehab or alcohol rehab. This addresses the issue most hazardous to their health and most likely to block their ability to tackle other challenges.
This rehab could be:
• Intensive Outpatient
Starting recovery with drug rehab or alcohol rehab offers the benefit of support 24 hours a day and access to medical supervision and intervention. This also provides important strategies and skills that the individual uses on the next stages of their recovery. This includes a better understanding of their own diagnosis and how it is affecting their lives.
Subsequent dual diagnosis treatment includes:
• Individual therapy
• Group therapy
• Relapse prevention programmes
• Opportunities to develop social skills.
There is no “off the shelf solution” to a dual diagnosis and the individual should be supported towards recovery at their own pace. This means constantly evaluating and modifying the treatment plan, to be responsive to the individual’s progress and changing needs.
It is a partnership between the treatment service and the individual. Our aims are not to “make them better”. What we do is to equip them with the understanding, sense of self-worth, confidence and skills to build their own path to sustainable recovery.
Drug and alcohol addiction and mental health disorders
Studies have shown that around 33% of people with a mental illness, misuse alcohol or drugs (in some cases both). Around the same percentage of people who depend on alcohol have a mental illness. More than 50% of illicit drug users fall into categories of mental illness.
Treating both conditions together can be crucial to providing long-term solutions.
Caring, insightful and well-co-ordinated dual diagnosis treatment programmes are available from 1st Step. If you or a loved one needs support towards a sustainable recovery from both mental illness and substance misuse, please contact us today.