Currently, an estimated 20 million Americans struggle with addiction. While it’s easy to believe that most of these cases are individuals who went down the wrong road, this isn’t the case. Dual diagnosis disorders are very common. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has indicated that compared to the general population, people addicted to drugs are about twice as likely to have mood and anxiety disorders, and the reverse is also true.              

Many of these incidents stem from individuals attempting to self-medicate to manage the symptoms of a mental health disorder, and they each can get worse if left untreated. When a mental health disorder occurs alongside an addiction, a dual diagnosis treatment program is a necessity.

Dual diagnosis treatment programs can be used during:

  • Detox—Detoxification refers to the process of removing toxins from your body. In the case of substance abuse, it means the period of time that the body needs to process any drugs and alcohol in the system and clear it away completely. This is usually accomplished in a hospital, or a treatment center with medical personnel on hand should the withdrawal symptoms become life-threatening.
  • Residential addiction treatment—Residential treatment provides 24-hour a day treatment services. This generally takes place in a non-hospital setting, but away from any of the influences on the outside that may trigger a relapse. The patient in long-term residential treatment stays for 6 to 12 months. This gives the individual time to focus on taking personal accountability and responsibility for building a socially productive life. Short-term residential treatment provides a brief but intensive treatment based on a modified 12-step approach. Treatment consists of a 3- to 6-week inpatient treatment followed by extended outpatient therapy and participation in a self-help group like AA.
  • Outpatient—The patient lives at home and is free to attend school and work activities while attending treatment services and classes during the day or evening. This type of treatment costs less than residential treatment and is best suited for people with extensive social supports. This requires a great deal of commitment by the patient to resist the old situations that may trigger a relapse. Some outpatient programs are also designed to treat mental health problems, along with drug disorders.
doctor comforting new patient in a dual diagnosis treatment program

Dual Diagnosis: Which Happens First?

When people have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and mental illness, either disorder can happen first and often occur at the same time, but one does not directly cause the other.            

People experiencing a mental health issue may turn to other drugs or alcohol to relieve the symptoms of mental health disorders. Research shows that this type of self-medication makes the symptoms of mental illness even worse.  

Substance use disorders can be mistaken for other psychiatric disorders. There have been diagnoses for substance-induced mood and anxiety disorders, which complicates the issue. Because of this, DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) advises that diagnoses of primary psychiatric disorders not be made until the patient is sober for a period of time sufficient for withdrawal symptoms to fade away. 

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis treatment program is essential in treating mental health issues and addiction at the same time. If you receive help for one problem, but not the other, you will remain trapped in the same dangerous cycle, but only a small proportion of patients with co-occurring disorders receive treatment for both disorders. In 2011, it was estimated that only 12.4% of people with addiction and psychiatric disorders received treatment for both mental health and addiction.

Clients with comorbid (co-occurring) conditions routinely faced challenges getting treatment in that they may be excluded from mental health treatment because of the substance problem and excluded from substance abuse treatment due to the psychiatric problem. 

There are several approaches to treating comorbid disorders. They are:

  • Partial–Partial treatment involves treating only the disorder that is considered primary (occurring first). 
  • Sequential—Sequential treatment involves treating the primary disorder first, and then treating the secondary condition only after the primary is stabilized.
  • Parallel–Parallel treatment involves the patient receiving substance abuse services from one provider and mental health treatment from another
  • Integrated—Integrated treatment involves a combination of interventions into a single treatment package. Both disorders are considered primary to this approach.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the United States has described the integrated treatment as being in the best interests of the patients, programs, funders, and systems.

A dual diagnosis treatment program helps the client understand how their mental health and addiction connect and influence each other. Along with receiving treatment, clients learn the proper coping skills they need to manage their mental health properly without the need to abuse illicit substances.

Theories of Dual Diagnosis

Several theories have been developed to explain the relationship between mental illness and substance use.

  • Causality—The causality theory suggests that the abuse of certain substances may lead to mental illness. For example, frequent use of cannabis increases the risk of psychosis.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—Twenty-five percent of people who have substance disorder also have ADHD. Having ADHD makes it more likely that a person will begin substance abuse at a younger age than their peers.
  • Autism spectrum disorder–This disorder has the opposite effect from ADHD and actually decreases the risk of substance abuse. This is because introversion, inhibition, and lack of sensation-seeking personality traits, which are typical of autism spectrum disorder, protect against substance use.
  • Gambling—Behavioral addictions like gambling change the way we think about addictions. Pathological gambling shares features and attributes in the causation and treatment with substance use disorders (DSM-IV).
  • Past exposure to psychiatric medications—The past exposure theory says that exposure to psychiatric medications introduces a brain imbalance that wasn’t previously there. Any new exposure to psychiatric drugs may lead to increased sensitivity to the effects of drugs such as alcohol.
  • Self-medication—The self-medication theory suggests that individuals with severe mental illness misuse substances relieve symptoms and/or counter the negative side-effects of antipsychotic drugs. For example: using stimulants to counteract the sedating effects of antipsychotic drugs.
  • Alleviation of dysphoria theory—This theory suggests that people with severe mental illness often have a negative self-image. This makes them susceptible to using psychoactive substances to lessen these feelings.
  • Multiple risk factor theory—This theory is that there may be shared risk factors that can lead to both mental illness and substance abuse. This may include factors such as social isolation, poverty, lack of adult role responsibility, high drug availability, and association with people who already abuse drugs. Other evidence is that traumatic life events, such as sexual abuse, are linked to psychiatric problems and substance misuse.
  • Supersensitivity—The supersensitivity theory states that certain people who have a severe mental illness also have biological and psychological sensitivities caused by genetic and early environmental life events. Interaction with stressful life events can result in a psychiatric disorder or trigger a relapse of an existing illness. The theory suggests that although antipsychotic medication can reduce the sensitivity, substance abuse may increase it, causing the person to be “supersensitive” to the effects of certain substances.

A dual diagnosis treatment program helps the client understand how their mental health and addiction connect and influence each other. Along with receiving treatment, clients learn the proper coping skills they need to manage their mental health properly without the need to abuse illicit substances.

Common Causes of Dual Diagnosis

While there’s no limit to which substance coincide with which mental health disorders, certain pairings occur more often than others. A dual diagnosis treatment center in Los Angeles provides effective treatment for the following disorders:

  • Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder– Those who struggle with bipolar disorder tend to reach for alcohol to manage their symptoms. While they believe alcohol helps their episodes of depression, it will only make these issues worse.
  • Substance abuse and stress– For those unable to properly manage their stress, abusing substances feel like the quickest way to find relief. Without learning proper stress management, relapse is inevitable.
  • Benzodiazepines and anxiety- Benzodiazepines are common medications to help manage anxiety, but individuals often misuse them. To manage their symptoms on their own, they tend to take more of the prescribed dosage. However, this will only make anxiety worse. 
  • Alcohol and depression– Those who already struggle with intense feelings of hopelessness and sadness will only make their symptoms worse by consuming alcohol. However, they tend to believe that drinking helps alleviate their symptoms, which traps them in this dangerous cycle.

Help through LA Detox

Don’t remain in a cycle that continues to damage your life. Find the addiction treatment programs you need today. Through these programs and addiction therapy services, you can receive the care you need for recovery. Along with a dual diagnosis treatment program, you might also benefit from the following:

If you believe a dual diagnosis treatment program can benefit you, make a phone call today. Contact LA Detox now at 866-932-8563 to learn how to begin with the treatment that will give you the best chance at lasting recovery.