One of the biggest challenges facing teenagers with addictive disorders is when their substance abuse problems cooccur with another psychiatric or emotional condition – a dual diagnosis. When a teenager is struggling with both illnesses, it can complicate successful recovery from either.
What Is a Dual Diagnosis?
A dual diagnosis is when an addictive disorder such as:
- Prescription medication misuse
- Abuse of illegal drugs
- Inhalant use
occurs simultaneously with a mental disorder such as:
- Generalized or Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
- Bipolar Disorder/Manic-Depression
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Conduct Disorder
- Eating Disorders – Bulimia, Anorexia, etc.
What Is the Link between Addiction and Mental Disorders?
Each illness – addictive and psychiatric – is a factor in the development of and progression of the other.
For example, a teenager struggling with anxiety might drink or use drugs (“self-medicate”) in an attempt to feel better.
Alternately, a teenager who regularly abuses alcohol or drugs will often feel depressed, anxious, or traumatized because of their chaotic lifestyle.
"Acknowledging that our emotional symptoms are beyond our control can help us understand that our addiction is a disease that is also beyond our control."
~The Dual Disorders Recovery Book
How Often Does a Dual Diagnosis Happen?
The National Bureau of Economic Research says there is a "definite connection mental illness and the use of addictive substances". Consequently, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports there are an estimated 9 MILLION adults in America with comorbid substance abuse and mental disorders.
Unfortunately, fewer than one in 12 ever get proper treatment for both conditions. Even worse, over HALF never receive any treatment whatsoever.
What Is “Proper Treatment” for a Dual Diagnosis?
To be effective, treatment for a dual diagnosis requires a methodical, evidence-based approach. SAMHSA recommends that the comorbid disorders be treated simultaneously with an integrative and cooperative approach.
Unfortunately, many service providers from both areas of focus – mental health and substance abuse – are not well-versed or experienced enough to (1) correctly recognize and diagnose comorbid addictive/mental disorders or (2) provide effective, data- driven treatment strategies for that comorbidity.
Integrative – The patient receives all of their needed services from one rehab program. Service providers act as part of the treatment team, staying in regular contact with other team members and cooperating under the collaborative umbrella of a unified treatment strategy.
Comprehensive – Both disorders are addressed at the same time, on multiple levels – emotional, medical, behavioral, relational, spiritual, social, etc. – promoting optimal wellness.
The best dual diagnosis rehab programs will incorporate Medication-Assisted Treatment. As the name implies, MAT helps:
- Stabilize moods
- Treat the symptoms of the co-occurring mental disorder
- Reduce cravings
- Ease withdrawal symptoms
For 35+ years, Teensavers Treatment Centers have been a trusted resource for families affected by addiction in Orange County, California. By giving your teenager the tools and support they need to abstain from substance use, Teensavers helps them return to a sober life of promise and possibility.
by Albert Fontenot
Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders: Treating People, Not Behaviors, by Jack Klott
Faces of Dual Diagnosis: a Canadian Perspective, by Robert B. Pereira