Drug and alcohol addictions rarely exist in the absence of other underlying psychological issues. When deeper psychological struggles become the root of alcohol addiction, substance dependence, or self-medication, a holistic treatment plan needs to account for mental and emotional well-being in conjunction with the addiction itself. That’s the focus of dual diagnosis treatment, but even a focused approach comes with its own set of challenges.
What is a Dual Diagnosis?
A dual diagnosis describes the coexistence of drug or alcohol abuse together with an underlying emotional or psychological imbalance. For an individual with a dual diagnosis, the first thought may be to treat the addiction and the mental issues separately, in isolation from each other, but practice has shown that you cannot separate the two as an individual moves forward with treatment. That’s largely because an addiction more frequently becomes a symptom of the underlying imbalance rather than a separate, spontaneous problem.
The Challenges of Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Acknowledging Addiction Is Often a Symptom
One of the first challenges of addressing and treating an individual with a dual diagnosis is accepting the reality that these struggles exist in conjunction with each other. Many times an individual may want to focus on overcoming an addiction while ignoring underlying psychological trauma or vice versa. They then become disappointed when a relapse occurs or they continue to struggle with the same anxieties or imbalances after seemingly overcoming an addiction.
Understanding that you can’t treat addiction without treating trauma and you can’t treat trauma without understanding addiction is one of the first challenges associated with dual diagnosis treatment.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Requires Specialization
Some facilities focus on treating addiction while others focus on treating psychological or emotional issues, but just because they specialize in treating one of these areas doesn’t mean they’re equipped to treat the other. In a treatment setting, a dual diagnosis requires specialized treatment and attention that not every program can deliver.
For example, a program at a dedicated addiction treatment center or rehabilitation facility may uncover underlying trauma at the root of the addiction, but the program may not provide individuals with the tools or structure to heal that trauma. Or the inverse can happen, when an individual at a dedicated psychological treatment facility struggles with healing past trauma but doesn’t see how that past trauma overlaps with and even fuels their present addiction.
As a result, dual diagnosis treatment requires a holistic approach with experts who have experience helping individuals reflect on both emotional or psychological imbalances along with the ways those imbalances contribute to addictive tendencies.
Increased Risk of Relapse or Developing Maladaptive Behaviors
Individuals with a dual diagnosis are at a higher risk of relapse or developing maladaptive behaviors in the long run, even after treatment. For the same reasons discussed above, someone with a dual diagnosis may focus on treating one aspect of a psychological issue or addiction without accounting for the anxieties, trauma, or thought patterns underlying the behavior.
When you don’t take a holistic approach to a dual diagnosis, those underlying struggles increase the likelihood of relapse when left untreated. Even if the individual doesn’t relapse, they may develop other maladaptive tendencies and coping mechanisms that can even evolve into another form of addiction.
On the other hand, treating trauma without also gaining insights into an individual’s tendency toward drug or alcohol abuse increases the likelihood that an individual will relapse when they believe they’ve healed and no longer “need” the object of the addiction but are instead “choosing” to partake, deluding themselves into believing they’re no longer addicted. This happens even more frequently when an individual is not in a dual diagnosis residential treatment program.
The Struggle With Self-Medication
Another challenge associated with a dual diagnosis is that individuals tend toward self-medicating the imbalance in an attempt to “fix” it for the present moment. When this happens, an individual may even justify an addiction as helping to stabilize their emotional or psychological states.
For example, an individual in a manic state may justify a marijuana addiction as helping level their moods. However, self-medication does not work for treating underlying psychological issues. If the individual isn’t asking what they’re self-medicating in an attempt to treat, they won’t be able to identify and eventually heal that deeper imbalance.
When a dual diagnosis treatment plan works, you’ll know because as an individual works to heal underlying psychological or emotional issues, the need they feel to self-medicate is diminished.
When Rehab Alone Isn’t Working, Turn to a Dedicated Dual Diagnosis Residential Treatment Center
Many individuals are referred to PCH because they discovered that addiction treatment alone was not enough to overcome their struggles with the confidence and support required to maintain sobriety. If you or someone you care about feels like general drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs aren’t doing enough to treat the root of addiction, they may be struggling with other psychological or emotional issues that require a holistic approach that dual diagnosis treatment provides.
If any of the above challenges sounds familiar or you want to learn more about the PCH approach to treatment, reach out to our caring specialists at our dedicated dual diagnosis treatment center today.