A dual diagnosis, also called a co-occurring disorder, is a term ascribed to someone who simultaneously has a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness. As of 2014, nearly eight million adults had a dual diagnosis. Although multiple conditions are present in a dual diagnosis, one condition might be more severe than the other. Furthermore, people with mental illnesses are more likely to develop an addiction or turn to substance abuse to manage their problems. Therefore, if your teen has been diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

In the case of a dual diagnosis, either the mental illness or the addiction can come first. Your teen may be diagnosed with one of many psychiatric disorders including depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, a panic disorder, and schizophrenia. An addiction can also come in a variety of forms such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, or sex. Sometimes, your teen may have multiple addictions. Depending on the type of psychiatric problem and addiction involved, your child may have the addiction treated first, with attention later turned to the mental illness, or he or she may get treatment for both simultaneously.

The Importance of Seeking Help

While it’s important to seek help for your child when symptoms of either an addiction or a mental illness develop, it is just as important to make sure that your teenager gets the right treatment. If the addiction is treated first, the mental health issue remains undiagnosed, increasing the chance of relapse. When your child is getting treatment simultaneously for both conditions, he or she will probably see two different doctors. This creates a fragmented approach to care. Additionally, one doctor might fail to prescribe medicine for fear of making the concurring condition worse.

As statistics from dualdiagnosis.org show, many people receive effective treatment for just one condition and not the other:

  • Of all adults living with a co-occurring problem, only 34% get adequate help for an underlying psychological problem.
  • Only 2% of people with a dual diagnosis enter a rehab center.
  • Less than 15% of people get sufficient help for both a substance abuse problem and a mental illness.

Signs and Symptoms of a Problem

There are several reasons why doctors might fail to make a dual diagnosis. One is that symptoms of both disorders may overlap. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), certain symptoms may be present that signal a mental illness and a substance abuse problem, which makes it more difficult to have a clear diagnosis.

Symptoms of a mental illness include:

  • Confused thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme mood swings or changes
  • Withdrawing from social activities and avoiding friends
  • Thinking or talking about committing suicide or otherwise causing self-harm

The following symptoms may signal a substance abuse problem:

  • Noticeable changes in behavior
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Partaking in risky activities and behavior
  • Increasing the volume or diversity of substances used
  • Developing a higher tolerance and showing signs of withdrawal if the substance is stopped
  • Feeling non-functional without using substances

Both a mental health issue and a substance abuse problem have social, psychological, and biological components. Sometimes, it can be difficult for a provider to make a diagnosis if the symptoms overlap. A delayed or incorrect diagnosis can also be made due to the provider’s inadequate training or inadequate screening. Either way, postponing a diagnosis can result in additional problems such as a higher likelihood of incarceration or legal trouble, a physical health problem, homelessness or job loss, and suicide.

Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for healthcare providers to distinguish between the two. Without proper treatment, teens face the risk of an uncontrolled substance abuse issue or a relapse. They may also inflict self-harm if their mental health issue isn’t addressed.

While the statistics for dual disorder treatment appear grim, there is hope for your teen. Integrated treatment, which addresses both conditions at once, is the most successful form of care. A treatment plan may include detoxification, psychotherapy, medications for certain mental illnesses, and supportive housing that provides support for people who are newly sober. Treatment sessions usually take place at an in-patient center, such as Centered Health in Malibu, CA. Here, your child will get sufficient treatment in a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment. Don’t wait for help – call or contact Centered Health today if your teen is showing signs of mental illness and substance abuse.