What Is Dual Diagnosis?
Dual Diagnosis emerged 20 years ago but is still misunderstood.
Posted October 10, 2011 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
Dual Diagnosis emerged as a concept over 20 years ago, but unfortunately, it's is still not well understood by the medical establishment though it is quite simple. It is, however, incredibly effective.
For example, you can be addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex or a combination of things. And you can have psychiatric disorders that include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, depression, borderline personality disorder, or panic disorder, among others.
A high functioning alcoholic can suffer from a mood disorder. A person addicted to crack can suffer from clinical depression. Someone suffering from bulimia can also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
It is this—the dual nature of the affliction—that remains largely undiagnosed, untreated, and is greatly responsible for the sky-high incidence of relapse.
Though it was introduced over 20 years ago, Dual Diagnosis is not well understood by our health care system; one reason is that it is not set up to treat Dual Diagnosis.
Instead, the US health care system is set up to work in one of two ways.
1. Sequentially. First treat the addiction and then treat the underlying psychiatric problem that drove the person to seek solace in alcohol or drugs in the first place. But unfortunately there is often a tragic time lapse between the two phases and this is often when the relapse occurs.
2. Separately. The addiction and the emotional problem are treated at the same time but by different doctors, neither of which have a comprehensive picture of the patient's health. And frequently each doctor is tentative with prescriptions for fear of exacerbating the other disorder.
But dual diagnosis is key to true recovery because addiction, in its essence, can have nothing to do with addiction! Addiction has to do with trauma, anxiety, depression and biochemical imbalances—and the person's attempts to regulate and relieve his or her own level of pain. Dual Diagnosis deals with these so that the patient can have a full and lasting recovery.