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Addiction treatment works. People with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse can get symptoms of mental illness under control as they also gain a handle on destructive substance abuse or addiction. For best results, treatment should be tailored to the needs of the individual and treatment for both mental health and addiction should be integrated.

The first thing to remember when considering treatment is hope.

Treatment works. It helps people gain control over the symptoms of mental illness and it helps people stop drinking or using drugs. People that get the right treatment can and do make great progress, improve health and live happier more fulfilling lives. It sometimes takes a bit longer – but people with dual diagnosis can and do recover everyday.

It is important, however, that a person with a dual diagnosis get the kind of treatment that is most likely to help.

Literally millions of Americans live with co-occurring disorders. Some have severe addictions with relatively minor mental health challenges and some have serious mental illness with some degree of alcohol or drug abuse – there is no one face of dual diagnosis and as such there is no ‘one treatment’ that fits the needs of all those seeking help.

What treatment you need depends on such factors as:

  • The type of mental illness
  • The severity of your mental illness
  • The severity of your substance abuse/addiction
  • Your age
  • Your physical health
  • Your history of treatment
  • Any physical danger to yourself and/or others
  • Many other factors

While treatment plans need be as unique as the people that require them, there are some general guiding principles for effective dual diagnosis treatments.

  • Most importantly, treatment needs to be integrated. When you treat only the mental health disorder, the drug or alcohol use continues to worsen mental health symptoms and affects compliance with treatments. When you treat only the substance abuse – the symptoms of mental illness make compliance with recovery exercises difficult (or impossible). By treating only one of the conditions the untreated one just drags you back down!

Getting integrated treatment means getting help for the mental health condition and the substance abuse at the same time, under the care of a team of professionals who are working together and in concert on your case file. At its best, this type of treatment occurs in a single facility where doctors and other staff can meet to discuss your care and stay fully informed on developments.

Some of the techniques/treatments used by effective dual diagnosis treatment programs include:

  • Using motivational interviewing and other evidence based motivational techniques to help dual diagnosis clients internalize a desire for change and willingness to work for it
  • Programs that offer long lasting treatment that occurs in progress based stages
  • Using outreach programs to help clients stay engaged in treatment (One of the best indicators of long term success is simply sticking with treatment – and for dual diagnosis populations, outreach programs, like visiting the home, can help a lot to lengthen treatment stays)
  • Using counseling in treatment
  • Helping the person improve their social environment - Helping them find safe living and social environments and avoid risky environments and people
  • Helping the person improve in comprehensive ways - This can mean helping with housing, employment, relationships and in other ways. 1

Talk to your doctor or primary mental health caregiver about your desire for dual diagnosis treatment, and get her recommendations for effective programs that meet your needs, in your area.

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Page last updated Aug 30, 2010

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