Expert Tips for Coping with a Dual Diagnosis & Addiction

a woman struggling to get out of bed while dealing with dual diagnosis

You, or a family member, may be among the millions of people with “dual diagnosis”—simultaneous substance-abuse problems and mental illness. People with post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, or other mental health disorders are particularly vulnerable to falling into addiction via the attempted-self-medication route.

What do treatment professionals and mental-health experts say that can help dual-diagnosis patients (and their families) through the coping and recovery process?

Charles Atkins, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for Community Mental Health Affiliates (Co-Occurring Disorders): “In a predominately substance abuse program, it’s now the expected standard of care to carefully screen for mental disorders, and the same holds true for assessing substance use problems and histories in people presenting for mental health services. … Focus on the individual, what they want and what they want to change now.”

Amy Baskin, author and autism expert (“Tips for Parents of Kids with Autism”): “Relationships are key to the quality of our kids’ lives. And to our own.”

Felice N. Jacka, Ph.D., associate university professor and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (“Dietary Change Key to Improving Mental Health, Experts Say”): “In my opinion … we should be focusing on nutrition in clinical care and thinking about measuring mental health when we look at public health initiatives that are designed to improve diet.”

Yona Lunsky, Ph.D., Clinician-Scientist, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (A Family Guide to Dual Diagnosis): Know “what kinds of thoughts and behaviors make you feel better or worse, [then come] up with a self-care plan that helps you to prevent or overcome the negative feelings. [The plan should involve] following a structured routine each day, engaging in a particular activity, spending time with a good friend or focusing on a way of thinking—anything that may comfort you and give you a sense of well-being and stability.”

Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria (Understanding Dual Diagnosis): “Families often benefit from developing strategies that support the person without supporting the drug or alcohol taking, for example, buying a hamburger rather than giving the money for a hamburger.”

Wendy Lee Nentwig, guest blogger, The Canyon Treatment Center (“Coping Skills and Dual Diagnosis”): “Ask a good friend to tell you a joke or funny story, find someone to talk to that always lifts your spirits, watch your favorite funny movie or TV show, tell someone that you trust about your fears and doubts, hang out with a good friend for a while, think of things you are thankful for in your life, listen to music” that enhances your desired mood.

Caroline P. O’Grady and W. J. Wayne Skinner, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (A Family Guide to Concurrent Disorders): “It can be much harder to suffer the illness of someone you love than to suffer the illness yourself. It is essential to keep a sense of yourself as a person independent of your relationship to your relative with the illness. Acknowledging your strengths and giving yourself permission to be human may involve learning to think in new ways about your circumstances.”

Linda Roan-Yager, special-needs parent and workshop presenter (“Building a Joyful Life”): “When [I] asked what helped one mom make meaning of her situation, she replied, ‘I get out in nature. It’s hard not to see the big picture when you’re looking at a horizon filled with magnificent mountains. I come away with a lot of peace after reflecting on a scene that is so much bigger than my problems.’ … Resilient parents have a positive intention about their lives and they articulate those intentions to themselves and those around them.”

David Sack, M.D., CEO of Elements Behavioral Health (“Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction” and “The Challenges of Treating Addicts with Borderline Personality Disorder”): “Often, patients are unaware that they use drugs to cope with [mental illness or lingering trauma issues]. … Those who enter drug rehab may get stuck in a cycle of chronic relapse or stop using drugs only to self-soothe with an eating disorder, sex addiction or self-harm since the underlying problem … remains unaddressed. To prevent further harm and guard against relapse, it is up to treatment professionals to … routinely screen for trauma symptoms, and deliver the integrated, multidisciplinary treatment that has proven effective in treating co-occurring disorders. Effective dual diagnosis treatment begins with a comprehensive assessment that takes into account suicide risk and crisis management. It also includes a stable, supportive treatment environment; individualized care from a coordinated team of professionals familiar with the issues … and long-term continuing care. Not every treatment program is equipped to manage co-occurring [disorders], but those that are offer a great deal of hope to these patients and their families.”

Jason Schiffman, M.D., Director, UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program (“Understanding Anxiety with Dr. Jason Schiffman”): “When we find ourselves in stressful situations and start to feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are thinking of things in absolute terms and if this way of thinking is realistic. Very often if we do this, we’ll realize that the reality of the situation is not as bad as we thought and our anxiety will decrease accordingly. … Engaging in [yoga, deep breathing, or relaxation exercises] on a regular basis can do a lot to decrease your anxiety, [but] it’s important to remember not to wait until you are feeling very anxious to do these but rather to do them consistently so that when an anxiety-provoking situation arises your body has a balanced and appropriate response.”

Sarah Williams, Ph.D., Clinical Psychology (“Finding the Best Dual Diagnosis Recovery Programs”): “Behavioral therapies can be one of the most effective methods for ensuring a positive outcome for individuals suffering from dual diagnosis. In many instances, people with co-occurring disorders may prefer behavioral therapy because they may be uncomfortable taking medication given their history of substance abuse.”

See also:

Dual Diagnosis Treatment with Kemah Palms

If you have personal experience coping with dual diagnosis, you understand the struggle. But you never have to go through the difficulties of a dual diagnosis alone. Kemah Palms’ substance abuse treatment programs are designed to treat you at all levels to reach the root of the problem. These include:

If you or a loved one is seeking help, call Kemah Palms today to learn how you can achieve lasting sobriety and wellbeing.