Dual diagnosis is a term that describes someone who’s simultaneously struggling with a mental health issue and a substance use disorder. It’s not uncommon for those with a mental health disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, to turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling or even sex as a form of self-medication.
Research shows that medicating mental health issues with alcohol, drugs and other negative behaviors worsens symptoms related to mental illness, rather than alleviating them.
One in four adults with a mental illness also have a substance abuse disorder or some other form of addictive behavior. Getting the right help for a dual diagnosis is more complicated than seeking treatment for a single mental health issue since it involves treating both an addiction and a mental illness simultaneously.
Here are five tips for finding the best care for those dealing with a dual diagnosis.
- Find a mental health professional that has appropriate experience. Effective treatment for a dual diagnosis requires a team approach with multiple healthcare providers working together. A treatment team might include a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a primary care physician. Working with a mental health provider that is willing to help with forming a treatment team is key.
- Acknowledge the importance of psychotherapeutic medications. Treating certain mental health issues effectively, such as depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or anxiety disorders, often requires medications like anti-depressants, mood stabilizers or anti-anxiety medications under the supervision of a qualified physician, as well as counseling or psychotherapy.
- Seek inclusive treatment strategies. Studies show that including spouses, partners, children and extended family and friends contributes to positive treatment outcomes.
- Stay informed: Keep up to date on treatment options. A mental health diagnosis of borderline personality disorder combined with a sex addiction isn’t going to be treated the same as a dual diagnosis of depression and opioid dependence.
- Practice self-care. Prioritize your needs as you go through recovery. Getting the proper amount of sleep, enough exercise and eating well are keys to feeling better and for making lasting changes.