Mental Health Substance Abuse Treatment

Many people entering substance abuse treatment also struggle with mental health conditions. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, mental health problems affect an estimated 45 percent of people who seek out substance abuse treatment.

In actuality, someone struggling with mental health issues has a higher likelihood of developing an alcohol or drug abuse problem. The reverse scenario holds true for someone struggling with a substance abuse problem.

The term “dual diagnosis” describes conditions where alcohol or drug abuse problems co-exist with mental illness and vice versa. In effect, co-existing conditions tend to aggravate one another in terms of the severity of symptoms a person experiences.

Mental health substance abuse treatment addresses the complex relationship between mental illness and substance abuse by treating both conditions concurrently rather than as separate conditions. While the types of interventions used to treat dual diagnosis conditions are, for the most part, the same as those used to treat substance abuse problems, mental health substance abuse treatment places just as much emphasis on the mental health component as the substance abuse problem.

Dual Diagnosis Conditions

dual diagnosis treatment

Dual diagnosis is when a person has both a mental health condition and a substance abuse problem.

Brain chemical imbalances can develop out of any number of conditions. Both substance abuse and mental health disorders either cause or result from a brain chemical imbalance.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, dual diagnosis conditions can take shape in one of two ways –

  • Self-medicating a pre-existing mental illness
  • Alcohol/drug use triggers mental illness

Someone affected by a mental illness, such as a depression or anxiety disorder may use alcohol or drugs as a means for relieving uncomfortable symptoms he or she experiences. While using drugs may provide a form of temporary relief, the drug’s effects only work to worsen any underlying chemical imbalances in the brain.

On the other hand, frequent drug or alcohol use creates a state of brain chemical imbalance that becomes progressively worse the longer a person keeps using. After a certain point, chemical imbalances reach a point where psychological dysfunction starts to take root. In effect, these two types of disorders feed off one another to the point where a self-perpetuating cycle of drug use and psychological dysfunction gradually takes over a person’s life.

Mental Health Substance Abuse Treatment Challenges

The complex underpinnings that bring about dual diagnosis conditions create a range of treatment challenges for both the patient and the treatment providers. As each condition only works to aggravate the symptoms associated with the other condition, the overall prognosis for people affected by dual diagnosis disorders is poor.

People struggling with mental illness and substance abuse problems have difficulty following through in treatment in terms of keeping scheduled appointments and adhering to their medication regimens. Without needed monitoring and support, a person’s condition only becomes worse, which increases the likelihood of hospitalization, or repeated hospitalizations.

Over time, the cumulative effects from drug abuse coupled with deteriorating psychological function makes a person more impulsive, and in many cases prone to violent acts. Under these conditions, it’s not uncommon for someone to become suicidal and actually die in the process.

Treatment Objectives

Compared to the approaches used when treating mental health problems versus substance abuse issues, the emphasis placed on integrating both approaches into one overall treatment model most characterizes mental health substance abuse treatment. Individualized treatment planning becomes especially important in accomplishing these ends.

Treatment objectives will likely include –

  • Reduction or relief of symptoms associated with mental illness
  • Reduction in substance abuse behaviors
  • A more stable lifestyle
  • Fewer hospitalization incidents
  • Overall improvement in quality of life

Types of Treatment

Since mental health substance abuse treatment entails treating two different conditions at once, there’s a wide range of treatment interventions with which to work. More oftentimes than not, someone struggling with a dual diagnosis condition will require interventions involving both medication and counseling treatment.

Considering the damaging effects a dual diagnosis condition can have in one’s life, treatment programs must also offer supportive services, which entail helping a person rebuild the areas of his or her life most affected by addiction.

Medication Treatments

Medication treatments can be used to help relieve physical symptoms associated with certain types of addiction, such as opiate addiction. Medication treatments also exist for relieving symptoms associated with various types of psychological disorders.

Medications, such as buprenorphine and methadone can go a long way towards relieving withdrawal aftereffects and also help keep drug cravings in check. For some people, the therapeutic benefits afforded by these types of medication treatments helps alleviate symptoms associated with depression and anxiety disorders.

Medications used to treat psychological symptoms come in various forms, some of which include –

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antipsychotic medications

In cases where a person takes two or more medications at the same time, treatment programs must take care to ensure any potential side effects or drug interactions don’t deter from the drugs’ overall therapeutic effects.

Psychotherapy Treatment Interventions

Psychotherapy treatment services provide the type of guidance and direction needed to work through the issues that underlie addiction behaviors, as well as those that underlie a psychological condition. As far as addiction goes, a person doesn’t really start “addiction treatment” until he or she starts to address the issues that drive addictive behaviors and thought processes.

Even in cases where a person receives opiate addiction medication treatment, the need for ongoing psychotherapy treatment remains. In terms of psychological conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar or schizophrenia disorders, psychotherapy treatment interventions enable a person to develop healthy coping skills for managing associated symptoms.

Recovery Support Services

Recovery support services provide the types of assistance needed to ensure a person has the best chance at a successful recovery. As dual diagnosis conditions often leave those affected unemployed, homeless as well as estranged from family ties, recovery support services can take any number of forms depending on a person’s individual treatment needs –

  • Vocational assistance
  • Help with transportation
  • Housing assistance
  • Food assistance
  • Family counseling
  • Child care
  • Job placement services

In effect, the mental health substance abuse treatment model provides a “wraparound” approach to overcoming addiction while helping to manage the symptoms of mental illness. In the process, a person receives the types of treatment supports needed to rebuild his or her life.