Addiction is a devastating disease on its own and substance abuse can cause people to neglect their health and responsibilities to their jobs and families in pursuit of drugs or alcohol. Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety also impact the lives of those who suffer from them, causing them to withdraw from families and friends, stop going to work or school, or take proper care of themselves. Especially difficult are cases of dual diagnosis, a term describing a person who simultaneously has a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. These co-occurring conditions are far from uncommon; the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that 7.9 million Americans experience a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder at the same time. Dual diagnosis may occur when a person with a mental illness attempts to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, but this does not have to be the case; either the mental illness or the addiction can develop first. Whatever the cause, help is available for people with a dual diagnosis. Rehab referrals can be the first step in seeking treatment for a dual diagnosis.
Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis
The first step in treating a dual diagnosis is making the diagnosis. Individuals will be screened for symptoms of a substance abuse disorder, such as:
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Engaging in risky behavior
- Inability to control substances use
- Tolerance for drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawal symptoms from drugs or alcohol
Individuals will also be screened for signs of a mental illness, including:
- Extreme mood changes
- Confused thinking
- Suicidal thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Isolation from family and friends
Once a person receives a dual diagnosis, he or she should work with a treatment provider to develop a plan of action. Drug rehab or alcohol rehab will be an important part of the treatment. Although the approach may differ from person to person, most drug rehab programs work as follows:
- Detoxification: the individual will wean off of the abused substance to remove all traces from the body. This process can be very uncomfortable, to say the least; undergoing detox in an inpatient drug rehab program provides the best chances of success.
- Inpatient Rehab: the individual will live at the drug rehab center while learning to live a sober lifestyle. Inpatient drug rehab provides the best hope of recovery because the patient will be surrounded by others with the same goal and will be completely removed from access to drugs or alcohol. The treatment center will provide support in terms of therapy, group and individual counseling, and supplemental approaches such as Reiki, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. These services will help the patient address both aspects of the dual diagnosis: he can work to understand why he or she turned to substance abuse in the first place as well as the roots of the mental health issue. Therapists and social workers can help the patient learn to handle the symptoms of the mental health issue without turning to substance abuse for relief. Strategies they teach may include coping skills, how to make healthy choices, and how to avoid triggers.
- Aftercare: a patient who completes inpatient treatment may feel overwhelmed with the thought of returning to the “real world.” Supportive housing, such as a group home or sober house, can ease the transition for some. Living with others who are committed to sober living may be helpful. Others prefer to return to their own home life, but draw support from the regular group and individual therapy to keep them on track.
Case Study: Holly
Holly’s bright future seemed sidetracked when she began a battle with alcoholism as a seminary student. As an undergraduate, she was president of her sorority, a good student with a strong social network. She hoped to parlay those social skills into a career in the ministry, where she could work with others and help them improve their lives. But she struggled with depression and an eating disorder, and her attempts to handle these on her own turned into a drinking problem. She attempted to self-medicate her depression by drinking, and her obsession with her eating habits, coupled with her cravings for alcohol, led her to consume most of her calories as alcohol. Holly found that herself drinking alone every night and becoming more and more isolated from her friends and classmates. When she did join her friends for social drinking, she would have to drink before meeting them out, they would leave early to drink alone. Most nights she drank until she passed out. While she recognized that her drinking habits were not in line with her peers, she failed to recognize that it was a problem or that her depression and eating disorder were exacerbating her alcoholism.
On January 3, 2007, all of her struggles came to a head when she tried to end her own life by downing a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Percocet. Until then, she had been able to hide her problems from her family, who lived in Montana while she was in California. But after Holly’s attempt at suicide, her family flew out to be with her at the hospital and pushed her to enter inpatient rehab. She stayed there for 90 days, but admits that for the first 45 days she was in denial as to the severity of her problems; her only motivation was to get her family to leave her alone. However, halfway through treatment, she realized that she was battling alcoholism, depression, and an eating disorder. Her treatment program recognized all three and helped her to deal with each, and, in her words, to move from the hell on earth she had created and seen that there was a life outside of drinking and depression.
- Through therapy, she learned to stop burying her feelings. She learned to recognize different emotions and address her true feelings. She credits her therapist in helping her to work through her depression.
- Through working the 12 Steps from Alcoholics Anonymous, regularly attending support meetings, and relying on her sponsor, Holly stopped drinking and has stayed sober for three years.
- Through seeing a nutritionist, she learned healthy eating habits.
In addition to these specific therapeutic approaches, Holly credits the holistic approach to her treatment program with her overall healing. Physical healing came through yoga and walking, especially on the California coast. The firm but loving staff taught her life skills and helped her form strong relationships and connections in the community. These connections have lasted over her three years in recovery, during which she returned to seminary for two master’s degrees. One of her counselors even came to her graduation from seminary. Holly now works in Recovery Ministry, where she helps patients with a dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction.
Holly’s case illustrates that it is possible to recover from a dual diagnosis and live a successful life, managing the substance abuse disorder and the co-occurring mental health issue. If you suffer from a dual diagnosis and are searching for a drug rehab referral, call our toll-free number today. We can help find the right drug rehab program for you.