HomeBlogHow to Handle Mental Illness in Addiction Recovery and Beyond

How to Handle Mental Illness in Addiction Recovery and Beyond

Written By: Harris House

Category: Blog, Recovery

Person seeking advice from a medical doctor.

A quarter of people with substance use disorders also suffer from mental health issues.

More than nine million adults in the US experienced both mental illness and substance use disorder in 2018, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Known as “dual diagnosis” or “co-occurring disorders,” this phenomenon is very common, and it requires special attention in substance abuse treatment and recovery. Here’s a closer look at the situation, along with why integrated treatment is so important.

About Dual Diagnosis

In cases of dual diagnosis, neither substance use or mental illness necessarily comes first. In some cases, people experiencing mental health issues may start using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate in an attempt to alleviate their mental health symptoms. In other cases, certain substances can cause people with an addiction to start experiencing mental health symptoms.

We do know that mental disorders and substance use disorders do share some overlapping underlying causes, including genetic susceptibility, changes in brain composition, and early exposure to trauma or stress.

It’s also important to know that because of the many possible combinations of dual diagnosis, symptoms can vary significantly. Symptoms of substance use disorder may include withdrawal from loved ones, sudden changes in behavior, using substances under dangerous conditions, engaging in risky behaviors, loss of control over substance use, developing a high tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, and feeling like a drug is needed, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Integrated Treatment Imperative

We also know that treating both types of disorders is essential to recovery. Asserts NAMI, “The best treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention, when a person receives care for both their diagnosed mental illness and substance abuse. The idea that ‘I cannot treat your depression because you are also drinking’ is outdated—current thinking requires both issues be addressed.”

Unfortunately, the professional fields of substance abuse treatment and mental health have “different cultures,” so finding optimal treatment is easier said than done.

Couple holding hands seeking advice from a rehab specialist.

Family support is an integral part of integrated treatment for people with co-occurring disorders.

A critical part of the process is understanding how the conditions impact each other, and what course of treatment is likely to be most effective. Typically, all treatment plans for dual diagnosis will include detoxification, during which an individual is weaned off substances in a way that best mitigates the effects of withdrawal; inpatient rehabilitation, in which a person experiencing both substance use and mental health issues can receive around-the-clock access to medical and mental health care, including therapy, support, medication, and health services; and supportive housing, such as group homes or sober houses.

Typically, psychotherapy – usually in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – and medication may also be used both to help people learn to cope and change risky patterns of thinking as well as to ease withdrawal symptoms.

The importance of continuing care after rehabilitation cannot be overstated. In addition to the support of family and friends, self-help and support groups can be invaluable. “Dealing with a dual diagnosis can feel challenging and isolating. Support groups allow members to share frustrations, celebrate successes, find referrals for specialists, find the best community resources and swap recovery tips. They also provide a space for forming healthy friendships filled with encouragement to stay clean,” says NAMI.

If you think you or someone you love may be living with a co-occurring disorder, treatment is essential to recovery. However, all substance use treatment is not created equal — especially in the case of dual diagnosis. Enter leading St. Louis drug rehab Harris House. To learn more about its holistic integrated recovery programs for substance use and mental health issues,  contact us today.

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