Understanding the nature of substance use disorder and addiction continues to grow and new light continues to be shed on the mental aspect of the disease. While the focus has long been on the actual substance sought out and the effects suffered as a result, a better understanding of the motivation many have to use in the first place continues to grow and have relevance. Many seek therapy for the mental health struggles linked to those motivations long before seeking assistance for substance use. As most who are struggling with addiction are slow to admit it, therapy or medication may have proven ineffective while the entirety of their mental health was not being treated. Once treatment is entered and completed, there can be a feeling that they should now be free of many of these struggles but this is not always the case. Up to 45% of those with addiction disorders are dual diagnoses, which means they have a secondary mental health disorder co-existing. For this reason, many find it beneficial to try again at therapy during and after treatment.
For most, an understanding that there is mental illness behind their compulsion to use is a great relief. Identification is one of the most powerful tools in the world of 12step recovery and treatment, as individuals who may have felt very alone in their thinking and inability to cope with life’s challenges are drawn to stay after hearing they are not alone in these struggles. Seeing that those who share their challenges have been able to build new lives with the tools gained in recovery, many feel more willing to do the necessary work and growth themselves.
While using 12 step or SMART recovery is often an effective tool to face some of these mental peculiarities, those who are dual diagnosis cases will find that during and post-treatment they will require additional mental health support.
Upon assessment, there should be a thorough mental health history and evaluation that takes place so that a treatment facility can plan for dual diagnosis treatment if needed. Many co-occurring mental health disorders need to have special consideration while treating a patient for addiction and the symptoms of each diagnosis can affect the other. For example, in cases where a patient also has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) they’ll require separate and individualized treatment to help deal with triggers and emotional trauma in addition to their work in recovery to truly begin the process of healing in both areas.
Some symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders may be temporarily relieved by the work done in a recovery setting, leading to the belief that there is no longer additional treatment needed. As real-life flows back in and mental health symptoms seem to reappear, many of those turn to their recovery tools to manage them only to find these tools aren’t as effective as hoped. This is often because outside therapy, separate from the tools practiced in a recovery setting, is required. There may be resistance to seek therapy again, however it is often necessary in order to deal with the totality of mental health struggles and aid in relapse prevention. Even within 12step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, it is widely noted that AA is not “a cure-all” and that one should seek outside of that program to deal with “outside issues”.
With nearly half the population of substance use disorder patients dealing with a second (or more) mental health diagnosis, this becomes an issue of relapse prevention. The symptoms of one diagnosis can often trigger or aggravate the symptoms of another. In someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD) emotional regulation is a challenge, in other words, they often have a disproportionate emotional reaction to stimuli and then additionally struggle to control acting out on that feeling. If BPD goes untreated the resulting emotional upheaval and distress caused by those disproportionate reactions can lead to a desire to self-medicate. Recovery tools are meant specifically for symptoms related to addiction and should not be leaned upon to fight the specific struggles of another mental health diagnosis. Understanding and utilizing different tools for different challenges can ultimately help aid in a comprehensive relapse prevention plan.
Ultimately many of those in recovery find ultimate freedom when they seek outside help to treat a dual diagnosis. The identification that helped spark a desire to get sober can be extended to the additional diagnosis, with the knowledge that so many in recovery also suffer from a separate mental health issue. In fact, group recovery settings are often the best place to seek out the experience of others and hear about what steps they took to help the work through all sides of a dual diagnosis. Seeking support after recovery from substance use disorder gives someone a well-rounded look at the true nature of any of their challenges and equips them with the knowledge they need to find additional mental health treatment. The different forms of recovery can work in concert towards total healing and recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.