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Find Lasting Recovery: Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens

Understanding Dual Diagnosis: Treating Co-Occurring Mental Health and Addiction in Teens

Updated on July 20, 2023

Understanding Dual Diagnosis: Treating Co-Occurring Mental Health and Addiction in Teens Location

No parent wants to find themselves in the position of dealing with an addiction or other behavioral and emotional concerns with their child. Yet sometimes, you find yourself in that scenario.

As you look into treatment options and therapies to help your struggling teen, understanding dual diagnosis treatment is important. If you suspect drug use or alcohol abuse, chances are high that dual diagnosis is in play.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Addiction and mental health concerns often happen concurrently. A teen dealing with a behavioral issue or addiction may also be struggling with anxiety and depression. Dual diagnosis refers to diagnosing someone with a drug or alcohol problem along with a mental health concern.

Getting an accurate dual diagnosis is important because treating the mental health concern is often the first step in effectively treating the addiction.

Dual diagnosis treatment centers treat both conditions. They use behavioral therapies and medications to assist with mental health concerns while using support groups and detox protocols to treat the addiction.

This is the most effective way to address these issues and provides the best chance at a successful outcome.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people with a substance use disorder are highly likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. While the research into this connection with youth is still in development, over 60% of adolescents who are in substance abuse disorder treatment programs also qualify for mental health treatment. 

Specific mental health conditions commonly linked to substance abuse include:

  • PTSD
  • Panic disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar
  • ADHD

Each of these concerns hurts a person’s executive function, though in different ways. For that reason, people with these mental health conditions will be more vulnerable to substance abuse. 

Also, people with mental health concerns may use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their symptoms. In addition, substance abuse can damage the brain and increase the risk of developing these conditions. 

Alcohol and drug use can make symptoms of mental health concerns get worse. The link goes in both directions, but it is clearly established.

Why Dual Diagnosis is Common in Adolescents: Vulnerability and Risk Factors

One of the reasons dual diagnosis is so common in adolescents is that this is typically when drug use starts. It’s also typically when the first signs of mental illness show up. 

The transition from youth to young adulthood is filled with emotional turbulence, and this can increase the risk of these concerns for young people.

In addition, the brain is developing and building executive function skills, including impulse control. Since these are not fully developed, young people are more likely to make impulsive decisions to use drugs.

father and teenage son in recovery with dual diagnosis Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens: Comprehensive Care for Lasting Recovery

There are several benefits of using dual diagnosis treatment for teens who are struggling with co-occurring disorders. These include:

      • More focused care that deals with the exact concerns the teen is facing, not overlooking one of the concerns in favor of treating the other.

      • A better understanding of the reason behind substance abuse, which is often a mental health disorder. This can help teens with their self-image, which can be severely damaged while managing addiction.

      • Reduced rate of relapse because the mental health concern is also being addressed, so the teen can heal and feel less of a draw towards substance abuse.

      • Improved quality of life because the teen is getting treatment for all of their areas of concern.

      • Increased success after treatment because these programs have aftercare that provides ongoing support to help reduce the risk of future problems.

    Chart illustrating therapeutic modalities effective for dual diagnosis treatment in adolescents

    Early Intervention for Dual Diagnosis – Key to Successful Treatment of Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

    Mental health and addiction concerns are not the type of problems that will go away if you ignore them and give your child room to grow and develop. Remember, half of all mental disorders start by 14 years old, and they are usually foreshadowed by behaviors that come before.

    As a concerned parent, you want to give your child the best chance at success, even while managing dual diagnosis concerns. The earlier you can intervene when noticing a problem, the better the results will be for your child.

    As soon as you start seeing concerns, contact a mental health treatment provider to have your child evaluated and decide if it is time to start treatment.

    Warning Signs of a Teen’s Need for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

    How can you tell if your teen needs early intervention? The key is to look for signs of mental health concerns and drug abuse. These warning signs include:

        • Lack of interest in activities that once brought joy

        • Physical changes, such as bloodshot eyes or increased tiredness

        • Mood swings that aren’t normal or due to reasonable causes, like puberty

        • A habit of lying or only sharing partial truths

        • Sudden changes in grades

        • Unexpected changes in friend and social groups

        • Extreme behavioral challenges

      If you’re noticing these issues, or if you find drugs or alcohol in your teen’s possession, act quickly to get early intervention. These problems will grow if left untreated.

      Find Lasting Recovery: Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens Troubled Teens

      How to Choose a Qualified Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center for Your Teen

      If you have decided that your teen needs dual diagnosis treatment, finding the right treatment center is an essential part of getting them the help they need. Here are some questions to ask to help you find the right one.

      What is the facility’s treatment approach?

      Make sure the facility is using scientifically proven treatments, including a variety of treatment modalities. There should be licensed mental health providers and medical providers to facilitate treatment.

      What credentials do the staff have?

      Ask about licensing and professional qualifications. Look for a facility that has credentialed professionals who are providing treatment. Support staff also should be background checked for the safety of your teen.

      How will you handle education?

      Teens need to continue their education while in treatment, so ask about how this is addressed at the center. Many centers will have teachers onsite to help keep teens on track with their education.

      What type of aftercare is provided?

      Mental health and addiction are lifelong conditions. While treatment will give your teen the help they need to overcome these challenges, they may benefit from alumni or aftercare programs that can help if they find themselves in danger of relapse.In other words, aftercare can be a key to lasting recovery.

      What type of outcomes do you have?

      If the facility has records that they can share, ask about success stories or treatment outcomes. Remember that there are some confidentiality issues here, but they should have numbers showing their program’s success.

      Dual diagnosis concerns are scary for both the teen and the parents. Yet treatment is available. Use these resources to find effective treatment, and act early to get your child the help they need.

      Speak to an expert about Find Lasting Recovery: Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens and your teenager.

      Connect with an Admissions Counselor who specializes in "comorbidity, mental health treatment" to help your teen begin their recovery today.

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