Over the years, a pattern has emerged: There are growing numbers of individuals who suffer from addiction alongside a secondary diagnosis. Fortunately, dual-diagnosis treatment offers an ideal solution for addressing both an addiction and a comorbid disorder.
Addiction & Comorbidity
It’s only relatively recently that we’ve really begun to understand addiction. Before it was studied by researchers and scientists from diverse fields, addiction was largely believed to be behavioral and, therefore, a moral affliction. As a result, people who suffered from substance abuse problems were largely relegated to the periphery of society, left to their own devices as they continued to suffer in the throes of addiction. But over the years, we came to understand that addiction is actually a disease. In particular, it’s a chronic relapsing brain disease that has more in common with diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes than we ever would’ve thought possible.
By definition, addiction has many similarities with other common, well-known diseases, particularly those that are psychological in nature. In fact, most individuals who suffer from addiction exhibit symptoms that overlap with numerous other psychological afflictions, which contributed to the enigmatic nature of addiction and is why it took so long for us to truly understand it. However, not only did we gain a better understanding of addiction, we also came to realize that the diseases with which addiction often shares symptoms can actually occur simultaneously. In other words, people who suffer from addiction can also suffer from any number of potential co-occurring disorders. This is referred to as comorbidity.
The majority of addiction treatment programs are designed in such a way as to target either a specific form of addiction or the unique needs of individuals from particular backgrounds or demographic groups. For example, alcoholism is treated somewhat differently than cocaine addiction. Similarly, addicted women tend to have different recovery needs than elderly individuals suffering from addiction. Thus, it’s very important for a person to find the type of program that best corresponds to his or her unique recovery needs.
Dual-diagnosis treatment is a type of rehabilitative program for individuals who suffer from both addiction and a secondary, co-occurring (or comorbid) diagnoses. Common examples of when a dual-diagnosis program could be necessary include when individuals suffer from addiction and anxiety disorder, addiction and depression, addiction and bipolar disorder, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on. The reason that such individuals would require a dual-diagnosis program rather than a standard program that targets only the disease of addiction is because these individuals often have recovery needs that relate more directly to the comorbid illness in addition to the addiction-related recovery needs they have.
How Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Is Unique
As mentioned above, each type of addiction treatment program is unique. Depending on things like the type of addiction being addressed, patient demography, and the specific scope of the program — e.g. holistic versus clinical treatment — addiction treatment programs can be comprised of vastly different collections of treatment techniques and therapies.
What makes a dual-diagnosis treatment program so unique, especially when compared to standard programs that treat only the disease of addiction, is that dual-diagnosis programs incorporate forms of treatment that address both of a patient’s diagnoses. So for a patient who is suffering from both addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, a dual-diagnosis program would naturally include all the treatment methods typically associated with substance abuse recovery, including group therapy and relapse prevention training, as well as therapies that specific target the causes and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Patients who suffer from comorbid disorders tend to have unique trajectories when it comes to the development of their addictions. While it’s inaccurate to say that their addictions can be directly attribute to the pre-existing diagnosis (or vice versa), there’s typically some level of correlation. For instance, a patient who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder might turn to alcohol or drug use in an effort to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, inadvertently developing an addiction after a prolonged period of self-medicating. For such individuals, success in recovery is largely dependent on receiving adequate treatment for the comorbid diagnoses, lending further importance to dual-diagnosis treatment over more targeted care.
Since a dual-diagnosis program must treat more than one disorder, it follows that there would be a wide range of treatments and therapeutic techniques utilized as part of a dual-diagnosis program. Though the specific elements will vary from person to person depending on the comorbid diagnosis, many of the treatment components will be some form of psychotherapy, group counseling, or an alternative treatment.
Most professionals in the rehabilitation industry would agree that psychotherapy, or one-on-one counseling, is the foundation for addiction recovery. However, psychotherapy is likewise incredibly important when it comes to treating the majority of other mental and emotional disorders with which addiction has high rates of comorbidity. For this reason, psychotherapy tends to be one of the most prominent and important elements of a dual-diagnosis program, allowing patients to work with trained, experienced therapists to better understand the origins of their comorbid disorders as well as to develop strategies for alleviating their effects.
Whereas psychotherapy is more patient-focused, group counseling — another prominent element of rehabilitative programming — tends to lend itself to educational and social aspects of recovery. In a dual-diagnosis program, group counseling is an ideal environment for learning about addiction and other diagnoses as well as for learning strategies for alleviating their effects. Additionally, group therapy is an ideal environment for developing social skills such as learning to establish and maintain connections with others.
Alternative & Supplemental Treatments
There are a wide variety of alternative and/or supplemental treatments that could potentially be included in a dual-diagnosis program. Of course, many people associate alternative therapies with holistic treatments, which include such offerings as acupuncture and biofeedback therapy. However, these supplemental therapies can be nearly as important as psychotherapy.