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5 effective treatments for dual diagnosis
Posted in Treatment

The problem with mental health disorders is they’re often invisible. A person who has cancer might experience hair loss from treatment; someone who is living with diabetes has a blood-testing kit and syringes. People with depression, anxiety or even schizophrenia look relatively healthy most of the time.

This leads to situations like patients having their conditions dismissed as attention-seeking or just a bad mood. Worse, there are stigmas against mental illness across the globe. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Health and Human Behavior found 68 percent of Americans didn’t want someone with a mental health disorder marrying into their family, and 58 percent didn’t want workers with mental disorders in their workplaces.

That stigma can discourage sick people from seeking treatment, which often leads to self-medication.

The danger of drugs is they often work, initially: The dopamine release drugs cause can create a sense of euphoria in a troubled person. Unfortunately, a lot of substances – illicit and otherwise – are also highly addictive, leaving the untreated patient with two things: Their original mental condition, often made worse by the psychoactive effects of drugs, and a substance use disorder.

This is known as a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders.

What is dual diagnosis?

Put simply, dual diagnosis is the term for the condition when a person is dealing with both a mental and a substance abuse disorder at the same time. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) prefers the term “co-occurring disorders,” and reports 7.9 million adults had these disorders in 2014.

Although the combination of mental problems and addiction sounds daunting, they’re both treatable. Treatment’s not always easy, but it works.

Five steps to treatment

The National Alliance on Mental Health outlines five ways dual diagnosis is treated:

  1. Detoxification: This initial stage is usually accompanied by trained medical staff, who can help minimize withdrawal symptoms and watch for complications as the addictive substance leaves the body.
  2. Inpatient rehabilitation: Many patients with dual diagnosis benefit from undergoing treatment at an inpatient facility. Patients can receive round-the-clock medical and psychological treatment for their conditions, free from temptations and distractions. Sober living houses also provide a similar treatment environment, particularly for those who are newly sober.
  3. Medication: Medical professionals will often use pharmaceuticals to help patients in recovery. Some medicines are prescribed early on as they help patients through withdrawal. Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can keep patients stable as they go through treatment.
  4. Psychotherapy: One of the most effective tools in treatment, psychotherapy allows the patient to talk about – and gain a greater understanding of – their problems with a trained professional. Psychotherapy methods include cognitive behavioral therapy. This very effective form of therapy teaches patients new ways of looking at their problems and dealing with them positively.
  5. Support groups and self-help: People dealing with co-occurring conditions can often feel isolated. Support groups help by showing them they’re not alone, and allowing them to bond with others who are dealing with the same issues they’re going through. Support groups range from traditional 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous to more secular options like SMART Recovery.

Starting treatment is key

Seeking help is critically important for anyone with a dual diagnosis; studies cited by the American Psychological Association have found many people in jail have co-occurring disorders. Sovereign Health of Texas provides effective, scientifically-proven treatment for substance abuse and dual diagnosis at its El Paso facility. Our experts develop personally-tailored programs to ensure successful, lasting recovery. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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