When someone goes through substance abuse treatment, gets clean and sober, and begins their journey in recovery, they’ve been cleansed of the drugs or alcohol that was in their system; they haven’t lost their personalities or miraculously had all their problems vanish once they got out of treatment. “You’re learning how to face life without a substance now,” Alexis Thomas, M.S., LMHC, CTRS, and Therapist Team Lead for Lakeview Health explains. “Once a client is clean of off drugs and alcohol they can begin to clearly see their problems areas. Be it anxiety, depression, anger etc., they work on coping skills to address these areas such as building self-worth, dealing with guilt and shame, coping skills for different moods.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from a mood and anxiety disorder (dual diagnosis), with the reverse also true. This statistic doesn’t mean that one illness caused the other, regardless of whether or not the substance abuse started prior to signs of a mental illness appearing, but because this is quite common, it’s important to address both issues in order to give the patient the necessary treatment and tools for them to use once they are clean and sober in recovery.

We are starting to see a number of treatment centers that specialize in dual diagnosis; Lakeview Health is one of those facilities. So how important is it to treat an underlying mental illness before focusing on treating the substance abuse? In order to accurately diagnose and help a dual diagnosis patient, substance abuse must be eliminated for a period of time. Alexis expounds on this, “I believe we deal with the substance abuse issues first to see if the mental health issues were substance induced. Once that is accomplished we begin processing the mental health issues.” She continues, “this allows the client to:

  • Identify the unmanageability of their lives
  • Identify what areas they want to address
  • Utilize the appropriate therapy tools (CBT, Trauma Work, Medication, etc.)

“For most people, using a substance was a maladaptive coping skill to deal with a variety of issues that arise in their lives. Many people are able to finally address this once they are sober and able to learn openly about their mental health issues.” While obviously it’s very important for the client to leave treatment with the necessary tools they need in order to stay clean and sober, for the dual diagnosis clients, it’s equally important for them to have their mental and emotional health be addressed. This way, once they are living on their own outside of treatment, they can maintain their sober lifestyle armed with not only those tools they were given to stay off drugs and alcohol, but they are aware of their mental health issues and have also been properly treated for that, increasing their overall success of not having a relapse in recovery.

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