Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis Treatment

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It is common for several different disorders to happen at the same time in a patient who seeks treatment. They may have some mental disorders that they are working with and struggle with alcohol or drug abuse as well. A patient who is dealing with two disorders of this nature at the same time should seek a treatment that will handle both at the same time. This is the best way to ensure that the patient will get the care that they need.

When a person meets the criteria for abusing some substance and is diagnosed with at least one other mental health issue, this means that they have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. Any of the disorders can show up first. Sometimes it is the mental health issue and sometimes it is the drug abuse. Either way, the patient will need to look into co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis treatment to get them some of the help that they need.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

One of the first things that we need to take a look at is what a co-occurring disorder is all about. This is when a patient has at least two mental health disorders. These can sometimes overlap and other times will happen one first and then the other. It can include two mental health disorders, or it can be a mental health disorder and a drug addiction or alcoholism and a mental health disorder.

While research is not conclusive on what is going on with these disorders and why some people are more likely to have a dual diagnosis compared to some of the others, there are three mechanisms that help us to better understand what is happening to the patient. This includes:

  1. Risk factors that tend to overlap. Some of the risk factors for abusing a substance and for some mental health conditions tend to be the same. This can include exposure to trauma, genetics, and other issues that can make the patient develop both disorders, whether they are developing just one or both of them.
  2. Self-medicating: Many people who have a mental health issue will need to find ways to feel better. If the disorder is not diagnosed, they may turn to some of their own methods in order to feel a little bit better and this can include abusing a substance. It may provide them with a little bit of relief, but it is not going to provide some of the long-term benefits that they hope for and can really make the situation worse.
  3. Changes in the brain from the drugs: Substances can make the patient feel good, but they are going to cause major changes in the parts of the brain that affect the symptoms of mental disorders. When the patient is using the substance and abusing it, they are more likely to run into issues with their mental disorder as well.

When the patient is suffering with both a substance abuse and a mental health illness, they will need to seek out co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis treatment. This is the best way to make sure that they are able to get the treatment that they need without missing out some of the critical components that will make them feel better and live a life of sobriety.

What are the Symptoms of a Co-Occurring Disorder?

The first step that the patient will need to work through to help them get the right treatment for dual diagnosis is to recognize that the problem is going on in the first place. It is sometimes hard for the patient and those around them to figure out what the differences are between a mental illness and an addiction because the symptoms are going to overlap quite a bit. To help avoid some of the confusion, the patient will often need to go through the detox from the substance first so that the mental health diagnosis can be made.

While each of the disorders on your mental health will have some of their own symptoms, there are a few signs that the patient and their loved ones can look for when trying to determine if a mental health disorder is present. Some of these symptoms include:


  1. The patient starts to notice major changes in their sleeping habits that do not seem normal.
  2. The patient stops doing some of the activities and hobbies that they saw as important in the past.
  3. The patient goes through highs and lows that seem really crazy most of the time.
  4. The patient has lots of fear and anxiety, without anything present to cause it.
  5. The patient is going to have trouble when it comes to thinking clearly or focusing on things in front of them.
  6. The patient is going to isolate from their family and friends, which can also make them lose touch with reality. They may also have more delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations.
  7. The patient may have trouble with their libido, either it will increase or it will decrease.
  8. The patient will suffer from physical ailments without a true cause there for them.
  9. The patient is often irritable over nothing.

The problem here is that the symptoms of a substance addiction are going to be very similar. If we wrote down a list of the symptoms, they would be almost the same as the ones for mental health conditions. This can make it hard to tell if both conditions are present or even figure out whether one of the conditions happened before the other.

Understanding Integrated Treatment for Both Disorders

Once the patient or their loved ones start to notice that there is a problem present, they may need to visit a facility to help them handle some of the issues. The best source is to use an integrated treatment. These programs are going to have the resources to screen and assess the patient to see what is going on. This will help them to see what mental health disorders and substance addictions are present for them to work through. This can also help provide some of the support services that the patient will need.

The point of this type of care is to make sure that the patient is able to get the care that they need. Many patients are going to have unique situations that they are going through and they need to help and guidance of the right medical team to help. no treatment is going to be the same for each patient. The integrated program will allow the medical team to learn more about the patient so that they can give them the best care possible.

What is Included in a Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

The goal of treating these disorders together is to make sure that the patient is able to learn the proper coping skills and live a full life of sobriety while making sure that they get the mental health help that they need. This can often be done with the use of the right medications and several types of counseling that will work well for the patient. There are different types of methods that can be used to help the patient and therapists and professionals may utilize several to see how the patient will respond.

Two of the therapies that seem to do well here is cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy for CBT, the therapist will work with the patient to explore more about their thoughts and beliefs and then will use that information to change the behaviors of the patient to something more positive. DBT has seen some success with borderline personality disorders because it will reduce some of the negative actions that the patient may participate in, such as self-harm.

Contingency management is another option that can be used. With this one, the patient is going to be given small incentives when they are able to show off positive and desirable behaviors, such as avoiding self-harm or staying sober. And motivational enhancement will help to increase the motivation of the patient so they can make some positive changes while going through the treatment.


Many of the patients will also need to spend some time in a support group. This will provide them with some of the help that they need during treatment, ensuring that they are able to gain more control over their lives and still have a group of people they can lean on when they are done with the treatment. This can help lead to more success.

What Types are Care are Provided for Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

There are many options that the patient will be able to do with a medical professional to ensure that they stay healthy and will be able to get through the addiction and the mental health issue as well.

While each facility that the patient can choose will be a little bit different, there are a few things that will happen in each one to make sure the patient has the best chances of success. One of the first steps that the patient will need to go through is a detox. This helps to get the substance out of the body so the patient can actually get the treatment. Many addictions can hide the true scope of the mental illness so when the substance is gone, the mental health professional will be able to do their work more thoroughly.

When there is an addiction and a mental health disorder going on at the same time, the patient may find that the withdrawal symptoms are worse than for other patients. Getting the detox done in a medical facility with doctors and other professionals watching over them is a smart decision. This will provide them with a way to get help when needed.

There is often some kind of therapy that will happen, many times it will be a combination of individual therapy and group therapy to help the patient learn more about both disorders and how to cope in a healthy way. Depending on the type of mental illness at play and the severity of the issue, the patient may also be given medications to help.

The patient will be able to choose between an inpatient care center or an outpatient care center for their dual diagnosis treatment. The inpatient care is going to provide the patient with 24/7 care while they go through the treatment. They will live at the facility for the duration of the treatment and receive customized care. This is a good option for those with severe conditions who need to get away from a bad environment and some of their triggers.

Patients can also choose to go to an outpatient care center. This will provide the patient with some of the great therapy and other options for treatment, but it allows the patient to go back home at the end of the day. These work better for milder cases for the patient or when the patient needs to still go to work or school to take care of their family.

When the treatment is done, the patient will still receive some aftercare services. This will include the right support groups, medications if the medical team decides that they are necessary, and continued therapy to help the patient navigate some of the hurdles that are yet to come.

Picking the Right Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Your Needs

When the patient is suffering from a mental health disorder and from a substance addiction, they need to find the right treatment center that will be able to handle both of the problems at the same time. This is the best way to ensure that they are able to get better and live the sober life that they deserve. Only when both of the conditions are treated together will the patient be able to learn more about the disorders, discover some of the best treatment plans, and even learn healthy coping mechanisms that will get them ahead.

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