Feb 18, 2023

Exploring The Benefits of Integrated Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Integrated treatment for dual diagnosis means the whole person, not just one of their diagnoses. This approach is proven more effective than traditional programs. It leads to better outcomes and lowered chances of relapse after a person moves to a long-term plan after initial treatment. 

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

According to a 2002 SAMHSA congressional report, co-occurring disorders refer to the simultaneous presence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder that interact but can still be diagnosed separately. 

The degree of interaction and severity of co-occurring disorders can vary greatly from person to person, and not every manifestation of a given combination is seen in every case. Any mental health disorder and substance use disorder diagnosed together constitute co-occurring disorders. Still, some disorders are more commonly seen. 

Common co-occurring mental health disorders include anxiety and mood disorders, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Alcohol, cocaine, opiates, and stimulants are common substance use disorders. 

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders

Identifying the signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders can be difficult, especially when the effects of a substance use disorder mask the mental health disorder. Those suffering from co-occurring disorders often exhibit some signs of each disorder, but the exact signs displayed can vary between individuals. 

Rapid mood changes, loss of interest in former hobbies, changes in weight or appetite, social withdrawal, and more are common symptoms of co-occurring disorders. Sufferers may have difficulty maintaining relationships or keeping a job, and they may increase their substance use to cope with growing stressors in their life. Depending on the substance they’re using, they may also experience illness, organ dysfunction, and other physical side effects. 

The Complexities of a Dual Diagnosis

Obtaining a dual diagnosis can be complex. Despite requiring multiple independently diagnosable disorders, separating symptoms to get a clear understanding can be difficult. There’s a complex cascade of disorders contributing to and worsening each other. For example, a person may begin using substances to cope with a mental health disorder, or their substance use may even trigger a mental health disorder.

Getting proper treatment for a dual diagnosis can be challenging. Improper diagnosis leads to less successful treatment and less patient engagement. Access to care for co-occurring disorders can still be difficult, despite increasing awareness of the need for integrated treatment. Programs may also exclude some individuals due to their dual diagnosis.

Why Do Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders Frequently Occur Together?

While a relationship between mental illness and substance use disorders is recognized, the exact nature of that relationship is unknown. It is thought that mental illness and substance use disorders have the same predisposing factors and can act as predisposing factors for each other. 

Experts believe that both conditions have a hereditary genetic component. Environmental factors such as stress and previous or current trauma can trigger them. Additionally, those with an untreated or undiagnosed mental health disorder often use alcohol or drugs to cope with their symptoms, leading to a substance use disorder. Similarly, the changes in the brain associated with long-term substance use and addiction can trigger a mental health disorder. 

The Benefits of Integrated Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

The traditional approach treated mental health and substance use disorders as separate, even in the same individual. However, a new, more widely accepted approach to treatment has emerged in recent decades. It relies on an interdisciplinary team employing evidence-based practices and strategies to care for a person as a whole rather than just a collection of different diagnoses. 

Integrated treatment addresses the differences between those with a singular disorder and those with a dual diagnosis. It often leads to better outcomes, including better quality of life, more long-term success, and a lower risk of interactions between medications prescribed by different providers. 

Facilities that embrace integrated treatment often screen for co-occurring disorders whenever someone seeks their services. This helps identify those with dual diagnoses that previous providers would have missed. A  missed diagnosis can lead to treating each disorder as an isolated condition.

When to Get Help for Dual Diagnosis

It’s never wrong to reach out when you feel you need help. You should seek help whenever you think you are struggling with multiple disorders or just one. Even if you feel like you can manage your conditions alone, you’re always more successful with support from others. 

Addiction centers like Massachusetts Center for Addiction are often excellent for seeking help and getting treatment. These centers typically offer a variety of diagnostic capabilities and treatment options. You want to look for a center that is experienced in treating alcohol or drug use disorders and provides support for dual diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders

They should work with you to create customized treatment plans that address your specific needs. This may include psychosocial interventions and behavioral therapies to address social and environmental factors. They should also help you make a plan for managing your dual diagnosis after you complete your initial treatment plan.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a dual diagnosis, don’t wait to seek help. Instead, reach out for an assessment and take the first step toward treatment today.

MCA Staff
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