What is dual diagnosis and how is it treated?

What is dual diagnosis and how is it treated?

What is dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a challenging condition and consequentially, a lot of experience is required when someone is diagnosed with co-occurring conditions. Treatment programmes must be tailored to the two conditions if the patient is to be successful in their recovery.

Can you imagine struggling through a professionally diagnosed addiction only to find yourself plunging deeper into despair during your treatment? Can you imagine not understanding why this is happening? Unfortunately, many drug and alcohol addicts find that this is their experience due to undiagnosed co-occurring conditions.

When co-occurring conditions (for example, alcohol addition and clinical depression) are found in the same patient at the same time, this is known as a dual diagnosis. This lends its name from the fact that a therapist or doctor can identify both conditions and diagnose them accordingly. This is rather than just assuming that only one condition is present and that it may be manifesting itself in different ways.


The challenges of a dual diagnosis

The previous example of alcohol addiction and depression co-occurring is a perfect illustration of the initial challenge of a dual diagnosis. Alcohol is a depressant for the central nervous system, which means that when the substance reaches the brain, it decreases the brain’s ability to control and respond to the central nervous system.

To simplify, this causes the pleasurable effects that are associated with drinking alcohol. However, the depressant effect of alcohol plays an important part in emotional stability.

A therapist that does not hold extensive experience of dual diagnosis may determine that the symptoms of depression in an alcoholic are not a separate illness but are instead the effect of alcohol consumption. This is very often not the case. Alcohol can be responsible for feelings of depression over a period of time, and it can be difficult for a doctor or therapist to determine a single condition.

Without an accurate diagnosis, it’s difficult to know how to treat someone who suffers from a dual diagnosis. A treatment that focuses only on alcohol could involve medication or counselling that could make the co-occurring depression far worse – and the same in reverse. It’s therefore essential that the diagnosis is correct.


Dual diagnosis treatment

When a dual diagnosis is made, the next step is to find a way to treat both co-occurring conditions simultaneously. Treatment may seem simple on the face of things, but it is often extremely complicated. The first consideration is whether one condition produced the other. If that is the case, treating the primary condition will often ease symptoms of the secondary condition. However, when cause and effect is unable to be determined, the treatment must occur separately for each condition.

Treating any diagnosed conditions separately is a bigger challenge – as mentioned previously, medications used to treat alcoholism could cause the symptoms of depression to worsen. Conversely, antidepressants could make it tougher for an addict to cease drinking alcohol. The therapist or doctor needs to find the right balance to treat both conditions without a negative effect on their patient.

The treatment of dual diagnosis generally follows the same pattern, starting with a detox. Irrespective of any cause and effect, the majority of drug or alcohol addicts need a detox. This is to flush the toxins caused by substance abuse from the body. Issues can occur when medications are used in order to help to control withdrawal symptoms. A medically supervised detox is the norm and doctors need to be careful about the medications that they prescribe.

Counselling is an important part of treatment, for both an addiction and a mental illness. And in both cases, a patient needs to be trained to approach their life differently. These new ways of thinking should prevent a patient from falling back into old habits.

Both addiction and mental illness need a lot of personal ownership for patients to overcome their issues. It is too easy for someone with dual diagnosis to blame each condition on the other and expect that solving just one problem will lead to a permanent recovery as that’s unfortunately very rarely found to be the case. A big role of the therapist is to ensure that their patients learn how to take ownership of their life and seize initiative once they leave rehab.

Treating someone with dual diagnosis is difficult, but a successful diagnosis and treatment will enhance the chances of a patient overcoming both co-occurring illnesses.


Dual diagnosis requires professional evaluation

To receive an accurate dual diagnosis, it’s necessary for clients to undergo a professional evaluation from an experienced therapist or doctor. Thankfully, these evaluations are the norm in addiction treatment. In the past, every addict received the same kind of treatment. However, in modern treatment centres in a new era of addiction treatment, the ethos is geared towards bespoke, customised treatment for each patient. In order for a bespoke treatment plan to be created, each client must undertake an evaluation before treatment commences.

When a dual diagnosis is made, a client will be given choices for their treatment programme. We generally recommend a residential rehab as the best course of action. It’s worth remembering that a dual diagnosis is more difficult for us to treat. You may be able to successfully complete treatment on an outpatient basis, but residential rehab offers a more focused care in a relaxed, safe environment.

We here at the Rehab Clinic Group are ready to assist with professional, caring and compassionate care to help individuals to recover from their illness and to overcome the difficulties of a dual diagnosis.

If you have concerns over your levels of drug and alcohol consumption, are worried that you may have an undiagnosed mental health condition to accompany a potential addiction, or you’re worried about the welfare of a friend or a relative, you can take the first steps to a positive new future today. Please call us on 0800 470 0382 or text HELP to 83222 and our team will be able to start to help you straight away.