Don't Ignore a Dual Diagnosis

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — October 6, 2021 — 3 min read
People used to believe that co-occurring disorders were rare and should be treated separately. However, over nine million U.S. adults experienced co-occurring disorders in 2019. Dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders, refers to someone who experiences a mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD) at the same time. This often occurs in those with SUD because of their desire to self-medicate symptoms of mental illness. Although, either disorder can develop first or start at the same time. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that the greater the mental illness, the greater chance a person will use substances. Individuals with mental illness consume approximately:
  • 38% of all alcohol
  • 44% of all cocaine
  • Over 50% of all opioid prescriptions in the U.S.
Dual diagnosis is now recognized as a common issue. While difficult, it can get better with appropriate treatment and support.

Treating a Dual Diagnosis

It can be hard to differentiate between addiction and mental illness. They have very similar symptoms and causes. That is why sobriety is required for a mental health diagnosis. For someone with an SUD, a monitored detox may be required. Once a dual diagnosis is provided, a treatment plan can be created.

Integrated Treatment

Patients must receive treatment for both disorders at the same time. This is referred to as integrated treatment. The goal is to manage their SUD and mental illness symptoms at the same time. It is illogical for a provider to think that they can’t treat someone’s mental illness while they have an SUD. Ignoring one disorder allows habits to persist that may worsen the other. Each condition should be considered primary. Common steps of a dual diagnosis treatment plan are:
  • Detoxification
  • Inpatient rehabilitation
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medications
  • Supportive housing
  • Support groups
However, treatment will look different for everyone. Depending on the severity, some may need more intense treatment than others. It could take a few or all the steps mentioned above. It’s important to create a plan that is individualized.

Impact of Integrated Care

Treatment is more successful when care is integrated and comprehensive. Research shows that integrated treatment patients are more likely to:
  • Stay sober
  • See a significant reduction of their symptoms
  • Visit the hospital less often
  • Live independently
  • Maintain steady employment
  • Report feeling happier with their lives
Integrated treatment helps prevent more problems from arising for dual diagnosed individuals. They will be more likely to maintain employment and housing. There is also a decreased risk of arrest and suicide. Taking control of both disorders will help them live more fulfilled lives.

Speak to a Doctor

Anyone currently seeking treatment with symptoms of another disorder should speak to their doctor. It’s important for them to be honest with their provider. Treatment will only be effective if both disorders are considered. If treatment has been unsuccessful, a new, more integrated plan may be necessary.

Dual diagnosis should not be ignored. Both members and providers should advocate for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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