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Dual Diagnosis: Co-occurring Mental Disorders & Substance Abuse Disorders

Dual Diagnosis Overview

Dual diagnosis occurs when teen has both a mental disorder and an alcohol or drug problem. These conditions occur together frequently. In particular, alcohol and drug problems tend to occur with:

• Depression
• Anxiety disorders
• Schizophrenia
• Personality disorders

Sometimes the mental problem occurs first. This can lead teens to use alcohol or drugs that make them feel better temporarily. Sometimes the substance abuse occurs first. Over time, that can lead to emotional and mental problems.

To get better, teen with a dual diagnosis must treat both conditions. First, the teen must go for a period of time without using alcohol or drugs. This is called detoxification. The next step is rehabilitation for the substance problem and treatment for the mental disorder. This step might include medicines, support groups and therapy.

Families and caregivers know how difficult it is to find treatment for an adolescent who abuses drugs or alcohol, but who also is diagnosed with a brain disorder (mental illness); i.e., ADHD, depression, or bipolar disorder. Traditionally, programs that treat individuals with brain disorders do not treat individuals with active substance abuse problems, and programs for substance abusers are not geared for people with mental illness. Adolescents are often caught in this treatment or services gap. Make sure the treatment program you get for your teen will treat both: mental illness and substance abuse.

Is Dual Diagnosis Common? << back to top

The combination of mental illness and substance abuse is so common that many clinicians now expect to find it. Studies show that more than half of young persons with a substance abuse diagnosis also have a diagnosable mental illness.

What Causes These Disorders? << back to top

Mental health and addiction counselors increasingly believe that brain disorders and substance abuse disorders are biologically and physiologically based.

Dual Diagnosis: What Kind of Treatment Works?

<< back to top
Families and caregivers may feel angry and blame the adolescent for being foolish and weak-willed. They may feel hurt when their child breaks trust by lying and stealing. But it's important to realize that mental illness and often substance abuse are disorders that the adolescent cannot take control of without professional help.

Teens with difficult problems such as concurrent mental illness and substance abuse disorders do not respond to simplistic advice like "just say no" or "snap out of it." Psychotherapy and medication combined with appropriate self-help and other support groups help most, but patients are still highly prone to relapse.

Treatment programs designed primarily for substance abusers are not recommended for individuals who have a diagnosed mental illness. Their reliance on confrontation techniques and discouragement of use of appropriate prescription medications tend to compound the problems of individuals with mental illness. These strategies may produce stress levels that make symptoms worse or cause relapse.

What is a Best Approach for Treating Dual Diagnosed Teens? << back to top
Increasingly, the psychiatric and drug counseling communities agree that both disorders must be treated at the same time. Early studies show that when mental illness and substance abuse are treated together, suicide attempts and psychotic episodes decrease rapidly.

Since dually diagnosed teens do not fit well into most traditional 12-step programs, special peer groups based on the principle of treating both disorders together should be the type of program to look for. Teens who develop positive social networking have a much better chance of controlling their illnesses. Healthy recreational activities are also extremely important.

What's the First Step in Treatment? << back to top
The presence of both disorders must first be established by careful assessment. This may be difficult because the symptoms of one disorder can mimic the symptoms of the other.

Seek professional help. A psychologist or psychiatrist can provide you with an assessment After you confirm a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse you are ready to look for a treatment program that will best suit your family needs.

What do Model Programs for Treating Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Look Like? << back to top
There is a growing number of model programs. Support groups are an important component of these programs. Adolescents support each other as they learn about the negative role that alcohol and drugs has had on their lives. They learn social skills and how to replace substance use with new thoughts and behaviors. They get help with concrete situations that arise because of their brain disorder (mental illness). Look into programs that have support groups for family members and friends.

Content compiled above is intended for informational use only and it does not endorse or recommend services available in this site.

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Teen Drug Rehab Centers can guide you in the right direction in choosing an adolescent rehabilitation center that will provide the treatment and therapies specifically related to your child’s needs. If your doctor has recommended that your teen stay in an inpatient/residential addiction treatment program, we can help you get admitted. Give us a call at 1-888-610-2046 and we will help identify the most suitable treatment program for your child.
What is Dual Diagnosis?
Is Dual Diagnosis Common?
What Causes These Disorders?
What Kind of Treatment Works?
What is the Best Approach for Treating Dual Diagnosed Teens?
What is the First Step in Treatment?
What do Model Programs for Treating Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Look Like?
Need to find a Treatment Facility for your child? Call: 1-888-610-2046
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