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5 Tips for Coping With a Dual Diagnosis


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Seek inclusive treatment strategies. Studies show that including spouses, partners, children and extended family and friends contributes to positive treatment outcomes.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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