7 Tips for Managing Your Dual Diagnosis | AspenRidge Recovery

Whether you are self-diagnosed or have sought professional help for your dual diagnosis, figuring out what disorders you may be suffering from is a huge step toward finding the help you need. Learning about yourself, your co-occurring disorder and how it to treat them together is imperative to a full recovery. So here are seven ways you can start managing your dual diagnosis.

1. Get a Solid Diagnosis for Your Co-occurring Disorder

Getting a diagnosis is step one in the process of getting treatment for a comorbid disorder of addiction. There are certain diagnostic requirements for a person to receive a dual diagnoses. These include:

  • A history of substance abuse that actively and negatively impacts their health, family, relationships, work, etc.
  • Meets criteria for a mental disorder.
  • The potential to be a danger to themselves or others (e.g., suicidal thoughts or driving under the influence).

Doctors and other healthcare professionals know you are ready for treatment when you exhibit the above and when you are motivated to undergo treatment and detox. Also, by knowing as much as possible about the co-existing disorder, they are better able to create a treatment plan that works for you. You can get your diagnosis by talking to a psychiatrist. If you don’t know where to begin, contact your local health department or your general practitioner for help.

If you are unsure if you are suffering from a co-occurring disorder, ask yourself if you are are experiencing any of the following:

  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Suicidal thoughts

These symptoms may exist alongside your substance abuse disorder. It’s important for a healthcare professional to discern what is the addiction and what may be a co-occurring disorder.

2. Know the Reasons for Having a Co-occurring Disorder

Why do people suffering from addiction often also have another disorder? According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), “About a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse. These statistics are mirrored in the substance abuse community, where about a third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness. Men are more likely to develop a co-occurring disorder than women. Other people who have a particularly high risk of dual diagnosis include individuals of lower socioeconomic status, military veterans and people with more general medical illnesses.”

The prevalence of mental illness and addiction existing together does not mean that one causes the other. The causality is different for many reasons. First, drug abuse can cause you to experience one or several symptoms of mental illness. For example, there is an increased risk of psychosis in marijuana abusers. Second, mental illness can prompt drug abuse as a way of self-medicating. Third, overlapping factors such as genetics and trauma can cause a dual diagnosis.

For this reason, finding treatment plans that address co-occurring disorders can be difficult to find. You can end up playing “chicken or the egg” in trying to figure out which disorder affects the other, but a trained professional can help you with that.

3. Look for the Right Treatment Plans for Your Dual Diagnosis

Not all drug rehab programs are created equal, especially for someone with a co-occurring disorder. What’s important is finding a safe place with an integrated treatment plan that can address all of your issues. An outstanding rehabilitation program will be comfortable treating addiction alongside:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • PTSD
  • Trauma

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, “Because mood disorders increase vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction, the diagnosis and treatment of the mood disorder can reduce the risk of subsequent drug use. Because the inverse may also be true, the diagnosis and treatment of drug use disorders may reduce the risk of developing other mental illnesses and, if they do occur, lessen their severity or make them more amenable to effective treatment.”

New therapies are being developed constantly as scientists learn more about the brain under the stress of addiction and other disorders. There are a few ways healthcare professionals can address co-occurring disorders:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Focuses on minimizing dysfunctional thought patterns and actions. This is an effective therapeutic approach for those with mood disorders such as depression. The goal is to take self-defeating thoughts and transform them into positive messages. It also tries to find more positive and effective stress coping skills than substance abuse. CBT is often a short-term therapy that addresses immediate problems. This can be followed by or worked in conjunction with Individual Psychotherapy.

Medications – Although abusing substances is not acceptable, treating a dual diagnosis with doctor prescribed medications can be. For mood disorders, these are medications such as antidepressants, anxiolytics and antipsychotics. Other commonly prescribed drugs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are drugs such as Prozac, Celexa and Zoloft that can regulate chemical imbalances by increasing serotonin in the brain. They are now more commonly used to treat mood disorders due to their mild side effects compared to other medications.

Group Therapy – Group therapy can be highly targeted for people who suffer from a dual diagnosis. Members are educated on their particular types of diagnosis. Groups are empowered to work together to motivate and provide feedback. Everyone in the group benefits from the relationships they develop as well as the sense of self-worth and optimism that comes from working through a common challenge with others.

Individual Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy or counseling. This is where a therapist and patient create changes to improve their quality of life. This is a safe place to discuss private matters and impediments in the recovery process. This therapy is much more broad. Topics are not limited to addiction or the dual diagnosis. The therapist will also work with patients on self-esteem, courage, compassion and love so that the overall well-being of the patient is addressed. A good therapist will help you create specific goals for your recovery, overall health and co-occurring condition.

4. Understand the Importance of Sobriety to Mental Health

Addiction eliminates structure and stability when attempting to treat mental health. Sobriety allows you to create good habits that help you STAY sober while continuing your path to a healthy mind. Up until now, addiction has been your default setting. When sober, you have the opportunity to create a new baseline of healthy, positive habits. You can embrace hobbies that you had abandoned long ago, and with the permission of your healthcare provider, you may be able to start working on exercise and a better diet.

Not sure where to start? Some positive daily routines include:

  • Getting a full night’s sleep
  • Meal preparation
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Reading
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning your home
  • Spending time with family
  • Socializing with other friends in recovery

If you have difficulty finding ways to implement good daily routines, talk to your therapist. They can help you set desirable and attainable short-term goals.

5. Realize That You Are Not Alone in Your Dual Diagnosis

You are not alone. As was said before, about a third of all people suffering from mental illness struggle with substance abuse. There are ways to connect with people while you work hard in rehab.

Join a support group like Al-Anon to spend time with people who understand what you’re going through. It’s important to share your struggle with others, as well as ask for advice from people in recovery. It’s also a nice place to spend your weekend nights where in the past you would have gone out with friends and possibly abused drugs.

Go online and find your community there. Social networks are a great way to find friends all over the world also in recovery and living a sober life. Do not look for connecting with people romantically. Within the first year of recovery, dating is shown to be associated with relapse.

Discover yourself again. You on drugs isn’t YOU. The first relationship you form while living a sober life is with yourself. Learn to love doing things alone. Go to the movies, go shopping, go somewhere to meet sober people. You have to enjoy your own company before someone else can.

Give back to your community. Spend time finding out ways to help other people. You may not yet be ready to help sponsor someone in recovery, but you can plant a tree or pick up trash to make your community a better place. Volunteering is great way to meet good, stable people and diversify your friendships.

6. Take the Next Step to Overcoming Addiction and a Co-occurring Disorder

The next step, if you haven’t taken it already, is to get help by contacting a healthcare provider or a local rehabilitation center. You can not diagnose yourself nor can you easily treat your addiction and dual existing disorder. Treatment for co-occurring disorders must take place together for recovery to be successful.

7. What Happens After You Receive Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

Although the first 30 days are crucial and often involve staying at a rehabilitation center, life after can look quite different. To ensure ongoing sobriety, there are some options for rehabilitation after care:

Weekend overnight stays at your rehab center. Weekends are hard for people trying to stay sober. Friends, family and old habits can creep back in. Staying the weekend in and working in a drug and alcohol-free place can be a perfect solution as you change your habits.

Live in a sober living community. So many others are doing the same as you. Living together can really help the transition back into everyday life. In some locations, you can continue to work. If you don’t work, you may be asked to help with things like cooking and doing chores.

Attend regular therapy sessions. Individual therapy is important to the process. It forces you to continue to be introspective and thoughtful about your recovery.

Go to group therapy. Like individual therapy, it has its benefits. Plus, it’s great for socializing!

Get tested regularly. Own your sobriety and increase your odds of being responsible by working with healthcare providers about getting regular drug and/or alcohol testing. It can help keep you honest.

There are so many resources for people suffering from co-occurring disorders. Don’t wait to get help. Reach out to a alcohol and drug rehab center that knows how to help you through this trying time. Thankfully, treatments are out there to get you back on track. You are not alone.

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