When someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol is also diagnosed with a mental illness, it’s known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. While the mental illness and the addiction are co-occurring, treatments for each illness should ideally be separate but integrated.
Programs that are geared towards treating co-occurring disorders exist.
The prevalence of dual diagnosis is much higher than once thought. Recently, a study found that around half of those who are addicted to drugs and a third of those who are addicted to alcohol also have a mental illness. The study also found that half of those with a serious mental illness and a third of those with any type of mental condition had an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
The reason for the high incidence of dual diagnosis is twofold. First, people who have a mental illness are likely to use drugs or alcohol to medicate their condition. Secondly, almost without exception, drugs and alcohol make mental illnesses worse, and they can even cause the onset of symptoms of a mental illness that didn’t exist before.
Any type of mental illness may accompany an addiction to drugs or alcohol, but some conditions are more commonly seen in co-occurring disorders than others.
Co-occurring disorders are treated with a variety of alternative and traditional therapies that address underlying issues surrounding the addiction and the mental illness.
Treatments for a co-occurring disorder should ideally be conducted through a dual diagnosis treatment center that specializes in treating both drug addiction and mental illness. These programs are highly collaborative and help ensure the treatment for each diagnosis is integrated with the treatment for the other.
Once the treatment phase has been successfully completed, an aftercare plan is instituted to help prevent relapse once the patient returns to normal routines. Aftercare plan components are highly individualized to meet the patient’s specific needs and will include ongoing group, individual, and family therapy as well as participation in a community support group like Smart Recovery or a 12-Step program.
The mental illness and the medications used to treat it will be closely monitored. Other components of the aftercare plan may include time spent in a sober living facility to help the patient transition from rehab to home or vocational rehab to help increase the chances of securing and maintaining employment.