Historically, mental health disorders and substance abuse problems were very poorly understood. In fact, it’s only relatively recently that the field of mental health really began to flourish, providing people with valuable clinical resources for overcoming the many varied effects of mental and emotional disorders. But before we could offer clinical therapies, people who suffered from mental health problems and addiction were largely relegated to asylums for the mentally ill or even to convents where they found themselves under the care of clergy members with very little clinical knowledge or experience.
As we gained a better understanding of psychology and physiology, we came to realize that mental disorders and substance abuse were quite unlike how they were previously conceptualized. Whereas people suffering from these types of disorders were often seen merely as bad people, we came to realize that they were actually unwell. Depending on the specific disorder or disorders from which they suffered, the severity of their symptoms could range from mild to profound, affecting virtually every aspect of their lives.
Today, individuals suffering from mental disorders and substance abuse problems have the benefit of vast, diverse mental health treatments. However, when it comes to dual-diagnosis patients, will a standard clinical treatment model suffice? Particularly for those suffering from a dual diagnosis, is a necessary for the individual to receive dual-diagnosis treatment for substance abuse?
It’s important to realize that there are many forms of mental health and substance abuse treatment. Further, each form of treatment was designed specially to address certain types of needs. Thus, it stands to reason that a person receiving one type of care for a specific disorder might not benefit quite as much from a form of treatment that’s being offered to someone suffering from a different disorder.
So how do you choose the right treatments for the right disorders?
Typically, most forms of mental health care begin with counseling and psychotherapy. During psychotherapy sessions, a patient works with a counselor to identify specific symptoms so that the counselor can offer a diagnosis. In most instances, the patient will be diagnosed with a single disorder, which means that most or even all of his or her symptoms are related to a single diagnosis. However, there are some instances where a patient might exhibit a series of symptoms that don’t necessarily relate to a single disorder. When this occurs, the patient is referred to as a dual-diagnosis patient.
In effect, a dual-diagnosis patient is someone who suffers from more than one mental health problems. Though the disorders could be related, it’s also possible that the two disorders developed totally independently, which would imply that each disorder had a completely separate and unique cause or trigger.
When it comes to dual-diagnosis patients, there are a wide variety of disorder combinations that a person could experience or exhibit. Of course, mental health disorders that are particularly common — e.g., depression or anxiety disorder — are more frequently found to coexist with secondary diagnoses than some of the more uncommon or obscure disorders. For example, dissociative identity disorder (colloquially known by its former name, which is split personality disorder) is much less common as part of a dual diagnosis than something like depression.
However, research has shown that addiction is among the most common disorders to be found among dual-diagnosis patients. In other words, when a patient suffers from more than one disorder or diagnosis, there’s an elevated likelihood that one of the disorders is a substance abuse problem.
Part of the reason why addiction so commonly occurs alongside secondary diagnoses — referred to as addiction comorbidity — is due to how addiction affects a person’s psychology. Since habitual substance abuse changes the structural, chemical, and functional capabilities of the brain, a person suffering from a substance abuse problem often exhibits and experiences immensely altered cognition. When at its most severe, a person with a substance abuse problem might seem to have a completely different personality. However, as a result of the emotional and other psychological changes that result from habitual substance abuse, a person could begin to exhibit symptoms of other mental or emotional disorders, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or one of many other mental health problems. For this reason, it’s quite common for people who suffer from substance abuse problems to also suffer from comorbid or co-occurring mental health disorders.
Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the process of recovery should have some concept of the importance of treating addiction with the right forms of treatment. When a person suffering from addiction isn’t receiving the right treatments and therapies, he or she stands little chance of achieving lasting sobriety. Thus, a person’s success in recovery often hinges on matching his or her recovery needs to the right forms of treatment.
When a person suffering from a substance abuse problem is a dual-diagnosis patient — and, therefore, suffers from a comorbid mental health disorder like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder — the individual’s success in recovery is now dependent on effective treatment for not one but two disorders.
It’s important to realize that, even though a mental health disorder and comorbid addiction might develop independently, it’s still possible that the development of one disorder is somehow related to or correlated with the development of the other. If this is, in fact, the case, then overcoming one disorder requires effective treatment of the other. So when a dual-diagnosis patient seeks/receives treatment for substance abuse, it’s essential that he or she receives treatment for both disorders as part of a single program. This is referred to as a dual-diagnosis treatment program.