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So you or someone you love has a mental illness and drinks or uses drugs to excess. You would be right in thinking that a co-occurring disorder complicates treatment, but you might be surprised at just how commonly addiction and mental illness co-exist and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn how well addiction treatment can work – even for those with co-occurring disorders.

People with co-occurring disorders will benefit greatly from addiction treatment, as long as treatment integrates substance abuse and mental health therapies at the same time.

  1. Untreated addiction will always lead to drug or alcohol abuse which will inevitably derail mental illness remission.
  2. Untreated mental illness will invariably lead to symptoms which make substance use relapse very likely

So when searching for co-occurring disorder addiction treatment, finding an integrated treatment program is essential. But what does an effective integrated addiction treatment program look like and how does it differ from conventional treatment?

According to the experts at The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), here are some elements of effective integrated treatment programs.

Elements of Effective Integrated Addiction Treatment Programs for People with Co-occurring Disorders

Effective Programs Work to Build Trust between Client and Caregiver

Effective treatment occurs in stages and the building of trust between the client and treatment staff is of utmost importance. Once clients trust caregivers they are more likely to become actively involved in their own recovery program.

Outreach Programs Improve Retention and Overall Success

Integrated treatment tends to take longer and it needs to be more comprehensive – and one aspect of this comprehensiveness is taking treatment beyond a main central facility and extending services into a client’s home environment – to see what is really going on and to provide the services that are necessary ay any given time.

Home visits and other outreach services also serve to strengthen the therapeutic bond between caregiver and client. Programs which use outreach interventions to engage with clients have much better retention rates than programs which are confined to a central location. Outreach might involve home visits to the client’s residence and/or other out-of-building meetings.

Effective Programs Often Incorporate Motivational Interviewing

Clients can often enter into treatment lacking confidence in their ability to change and may be battling some ambivalence about treatment and abstinence. Motivational interviewing is an evidence based intervention that helps people overcome ambivalence to change, take more ownership over treatment decisions and become more actively involved and committed to meaningful change.

Effective Treatment Programs Offer Counseling

Whether individual, group or family based, all effective treatment programs for those with co-occurring disorders offer at least some counseling. Counseling teaches coping, behavioral and cognitive skills and is an essential element of dual diagnosis treatment.

Effective Programs Help Clients Build Positive Social Relationships

Negative peer relationships (drug using friends or drinking buddies, for example) can damage recovery efforts while positive and supportive social relationships reduce the odds of relapse. Effective programs help clients identify and end dangerous social relationships and help clients develop the skills needed to build new or strengthen existing healthy relationships.

Effective Treatment Is Extended and Open Ended

Dual diagnosis treatment can take months or even years. Protracted treatment allows for a natural rate of progress and protects greatly against early relapse. Every person is different and every person’s treatment schedule will differ. Although 28 days of treatment to a ‘cure’ may sound attractive it is not likely realistic or desirable.

Effective Treatment Is Comprehensive

When mental illness intertwines with substance abuse, treatment cannot focus solely on internal changes – it must help the client make changes and progress in all areas of life. To do this, effective treatment programs provide intervention and support in areas such as social relationships, living arrangements, employment skills, handling leisure time and dealing with stress and anger.

Effective Treatment is Culturally Aware

Caregivers must be able to understand, relate to and communicate effectively with the client for any chance at real success. It is important that people receive integrated treatment within a program that is culturally sensitive. Cultural sensitivity is of paramount importance to many people from certain groups, such as women with small children, teens, homeless people, African Americans or Hispanics and others. 1

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Page last updated Jun 23, 2012

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