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Co-Occurring Disorder and Dual Diagnosis Treatment Guide

The terms co-occurring disorder and dual diagnosis are often used interchangeably. Both terms refer to the simultaneous occurrence of a mental health issue and a substance use disorder.  

Individuals with co-occurring disorders do not overcome them without professional help.  Long-term programs are the best option.  These programs help individuals develop functional improvements and stability that will contribute to their recovery.

A comprehensive approach to dual-diagnosis treatment should include a variety of methodologies.  They should target both the mental health aspects as well as substance use. 

It’s not easy to choose the right treatment for yourself or a loved one.  But, this guide should provide the information you need to determine the best treatment approach for someone with co-occurring disorders.

Co-Occurring Disorder and Dual Diagnosis Treatment Guide

Common Co-Occurring or Dual Diagnosis Disorders

Most people with substance use disorders (SUDs) also have a mental health disorder.  In many cases, it’s hard to determine which came first, the addiction or the mental illness.  For instance, people with mental illness often use addictive substances as a form of self-medication.  

On the other hand, people with SUD often develop mental health issues resulting from their drug use.  Regardless of how the co-occurring disorders began, treating them together is the most effective approach for helping these individuals regain a sense of normalcy in their lives.

Some of the most common combinations involving mental health problems and substances are:

  • Alcohol addiction combined with panic disorder.
  • Cocaine addiction with depression.
  • Alcoholism with drug obsession and schizophrenia.
  • Personality disorders with poly-drug abuse disorder.
  • Psychiatric disorders with methamphetamine abuse.

Mental illnesses and addiction often have similar symptoms, so a correct diagnosis can be difficult.  But, it’s vital to treat co-occurring symptoms at the same time to ensure the best outcomes.

Types of Mental Illness That May Lead to Substance Use Disorders

It is hard to determine if someone is simply having a bad day or a bad week, or if something more worrisome is going on.  Of course, these signs may not always indicate mental illness or substance abuse.  But, it’s wise to be familiar with them in case a loved one needs intervention.

Co-occurring disorders often include the following signs or symptoms:

  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Depression, hopelessness, sadness
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Bipolar disorder, OCD
  • PTSD
  • Grief, anger, fear
  • Poor health
  • Irrational thinking
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal ideations

Many of these symptoms are present due to a family history of depression or other mental illnesses.  Also, people are often influenced by their learned responses to stress, fear, or loss.  With some individuals, the symptoms are due to untreated trauma.  When these individuals self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, the symptoms worsen.

So, what makes up an effective treatment program for dual-diagnosis patients?

Key Features of Dual Diagnostic Treatment

Identifying and treating co-occurring disorders involves expertise, compassion, and dedication.  The interaction between substance use and mental health disorders makes treatment more complex. So, treatment providers must understand the similarities between substance abuse and psychic disorders.  This knowledge allows them to determine the best treatment approach.  Also, the program should be adaptable to each person’s unique needs.  

The key features of dual diagnostic treatment should include the following criteria:

  1. Addiction specialists and mental health professionals must work together to ensure that the individual’s treatment needs are met.  This level of expert treatment is the most effective approach to treating dual diagnosis.
  2. Psychotherapeutic counseling plays a key role in helping a person identify and manage the underlying causes of their substance use.  Also, psychotherapeutic medications help to address the symptoms of mood disorders.
  3. Treatment plans that allow clients to make choices will help them build confidence and gain improved self-esteem.  
  4. Family members should take part to some extent in the person’s treatment regimen.
  5. Aftercare programs individuals reintegrate with their community following treatment.

Studies show that about 50 percent of individuals with a mental disorder also struggle with substance abuse problems.  Recovery requires that the individual develop the skills to effectively manage both illnesses.  A long-term treatment program followed by an aftercare plan is the recommended approach for achieving this goal.

What to Expect in Long-Term Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

What to Expect in Long-Term Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction treatment is a process that includes a combination of detoxification, counseling, therapy sessions, and an aftercare program.  Within that framework, individuals take part in a variety of classes and activities.  The goal is to help them gain the skills and confidence to maintain a sober lifestyle.

Long-term programs provide at least 90 days of continuous treatment.  An inpatient environment is both substance-free and comfortable.  Some programs can last up to a year or longer if needed. Experts agree that the longer a person remains in treatment, the chance of relapse decreases.   

Studies show that at least 40 to 60 percent of people relapse within 30 days after leaving rehab.  So, a long-term program is the best option for ensuring that a person receives the highest level of care for their needs.  Relapse prevention is a primary focus of long-term treatment programs.

Our long-term treatment programs at Design for Change Recovery include the following.  We strive to ensure that our clients get the level of treatment best suited for their situation:

  • Medically supervised detoxification to cleanse the body of all traces of the substance.
  • Group or individual counseling allows a person to interact with others who are struggling with the same issues.  But, some people are uncomfortable sharing their experiences in a group setting.  Individual counseling sessions are available if needed. 
  • Psychotherapeutic care helps a person change problematic behaviors.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps the individual deal with problems in a more positive manner.
  • 12-Step or self-help meetings provide guidance and counseling to help a person stay on track during recovery. 
  • Sober-living homes provide a secure, substance-free environment for individuals who are in recovery.
  • Family involvement helps educate family members about substance abuse and their role in a loved one’s successful recovery.
  • Continuing care programs provide counseling and assistance with locating various resources to help the person acclimate to life outside of rehab.
  • Holistic treatment helps a person heal in body, mind, and spirit.  Holistic approaches are a vital complement to any treatment program, especially dual-diagnosis treatment. They help a person focus on changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that motivated them to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. 

Holistic programs may include the following therapies:

  • Music and art therapy.
  • Meditation, acupuncture, massage, yoga.
  • Neuro-feedback. 
  • Biosound therapy.
  • Psychodrama.
  • Sociometry.
  • Physical fitness.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Hypnosis.
  • Tai Chi, Ayurveda.
  • Animal-assisted therapy.
  • Nutritional guidance.

We recognize the interconnection between addiction and co-occurring mental health problems.  So, our goal is to help heal the whole person, not only the physical dependence. The program options we offer will address all contributing aspects of an addiction to restore a person’s physical and mental health for long-term, successful recovery.

The benefits of a comprehensive treatment program include improved physical fitness, enhanced self-confidence, and reduced cravings.

Get the Best Treatment Program for Co-Occurring Disorders

At Design for Change Recovery, we offer a fully credentialed, comprehensive program that can be customized to fit each person’s particular needs.  Our goal is to help people identify and develop effective coping skills to manage the underlying factors of their substance use.  

If you need help with co-occurring disorders, contact us at our Lancaster, California facility today.  We can conduct a confidential assessment of your situation and recommend a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.  

Our compassionate and skilled professionals will help you establish balance in your life so you can enjoy the substance-free future you desire. Call now to talk with one of our representatives to get started on your recovery today.


  • – Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

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