When a patient is diagnosed with a drug or alcohol addiction and they are subsequently diagnosed with a co-existent mental health disorder, they are said to have a dual diagnosis. At treatment centers, dual diagnosis treatment programs focus on addressing and managing both conditions simultaneously.
The difficulty is that drug abuse can mask an underlying mental disorder. Less commonly, a serious mental disorder can mask a drug or alcohol problem. For example, it is not uncommon for people to seek medical help when they feel anxious or depressed. If they visit a doctor, they may be prescribed drugs to relieve the anxiety or the depression. Unfortunately, if the anxiety or depression are symptoms of serious mental health disorders, the drug treatment is going to be ineffective.
When patients report back to their doctors, the doctors will often increase the dosage, or prescribe a different drug. This type of misdiagnosis is not uncommon, and it is not down to medical incompetence. Many serious mental disorders can only be diagnosed accurately by psychiatric specialists. Even they can struggle to get to the bottom of a patient's real problem, so it is hardly surprising when a non-specialist cannot diagnose an issue.
Another problem is that the symptoms associated with some drugs are very similar to those caused by particular mental disorders. The symptoms displayed by long-term amphetamine users can often be confused with those of schizophrenia. Excessive intake of alcohol can trigger hallucinations that may appear like psychotic episodes. These factors combine to make dual diagnosis difficult. By the time the existence of the two separate conditions is recognized, the patient can have a serious addiction problem.
When a person has a dual diagnosis, this inevitably complicates the treatment and recovery process. It will be necessary to provide treatment for both the addiction and the serious mental disorder at the same time. There may be situations when this proves difficult.
A common complication faced in dual diagnosis treatment is when the patient has been receiving medication to treat a mental disorder and has developed an addiction to that medication. Treatment for the mental illness has to be continued while the addiction also needs to be dealt with.
Drugs from the opioid family are used to treat mental disorders such as OCD and PTSD, and they are also used to treat certain types of drug addiction. If a patient develops an addiction to an opioid, then it may be necessary to find alternative treatments for the OCD or PTSD.
Dual diagnosis treatment usually involves psycho-pharmacological experts in consultation with addiction specialists. The combined medical expertise will be used to come up with a suitable program that will help the patient control his or her mental problems as well as deal with the drug addiction.
Every case needs to be assessed to decide on the best treatment options. Treatment centers are designed to treat multiple forms of addiction, as well as provide assistance for dual diagnosis patients.