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Supporting a Loved One with Dual Diagnosis: How to Help and What to Expect

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Supporting a Loved One with Dual Diagnosis

If a loved one has been diagnosed with addiction and another mental health disorder, it’s natural to have questions and concerns. The dual diagnosis may seem overwhelming. However, getting an accurate and specific diagnosis, even if it involves more than one mental health condition, allows people to get effective care. It also helps you and your loved one understand the cycle of addiction and the elements that foster lasting recovery.


Burning Tree Ranch is the Nation’s only dual diagnosis treatment center designed exclusively for the chronic relapser.


What Can You Expect If Someone Has a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis means that someone has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder as well as one or more other mental illnesses. This is not uncommon. In fact, about 9.2 million American adults have a dual diagnosis.

There are inherent challenges involved with managing substance use disorders as well as other mental illnesses. When more than one condition occurs at once, the challenges can be amplified. Some of the concerns that arise from a dual diagnosis include the following:

  • Determining whether the substance use is a symptom of the mental illness or vice versa
  • Dual diagnosis increases the risk of relapse
  • Addressing the negative thought patterns, trauma or anxieties that underlie addictive behaviors
  • Dealing with adverse reactions between prescription medications for the mental health disorder and other drugs or alcohol
  • Facing the stigma of being diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder

The Importance of Encouraging Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

The Importance of Encouraging Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Treating the addiction without the underlying mental illness can get someone through detox and on the road to sustained sobriety. But an existing mental health disorder can make it difficult to cope with distressing emotions. It can cause someone to develop maladaptive coping mechanisms that lead them back to substance use.

If you treat the underlying mental illness without addressing the addiction, you will likely experience similar complications. Substances affect your brain chemistry, making it difficult to understand and manage your thinking and behaviors. Treating the mental health disorder may encourage someone to believe that they have everything under control. But substance abuse can still be an issue if the substance use is not dealt with.

How Does a Dual Diagnosis Affect Treatment and Recovery?

In many cases, the symptoms of substance use disorder may seem more obvious than symptoms of another mental illness. You may chalk your loved one’s problems and destructive behaviors up to their use of alcohol or drugs. With this way of thinking, you might believe that treating the substance use problem will resolve all of the individual’s issues.

But overcoming the addiction is only one piece of the puzzle. Quitting drugs has many benefits for your physical and mental health. Without drugs or alcohol in your body, your hormones and neurochemicals have a chance to balance out. You may experience clearer thinking and stop participating in erratic or destructive behaviors.

Quitting substances isn’t a quick fix, however. And it’s not an isolated solution for people with a dual diagnosis. Although undergoing treatment for substance use disorder is an important part of the recovery journey, it doesn’t always address the entire picture. If other mental health issues aren’t treated at the same time, distressing issues, symptoms, and behaviors can still arise and interfere with sustained recovery.

It’s essential to work with mental health providers who are experienced with dual diagnoses. Some medications that are prescribed to manage a particular condition may be contraindicated for use with alcohol or other substances.

Also, medical management of psychological illnesses can contribute to substance abuse. Reliance on ADHD or anxiety medication can lead to addiction to those drugs. These circumstances also require holistic care and alternative methods of managing the mental health disorder.

How to Support Someone with a Dual Diagnosis

There are several elements that can help you support a friend or family member with a dual diagnosis. The first step is understanding. Getting an accurate and professional diagnosis allows you and your loved one to learn more about what’s going on.

Mental Health and Substance Use Education

Education about mental health and substance use disorders puts things into perspective. It can help you recognize that your loved one’s behaviors aren’t malicious or intentional.

Learning about the mental health disorders that this individual is facing allows both parties to face this season of life with less judgment and more grace. It also gives you insight into the most effective treatment options for your loved one.

Be Encouraging

Learning that someone has a dual diagnosis can be overwhelming. Between understanding the wide range of symptoms and devising a treatment plan, the process can be daunting. People with a dual diagnosis need extra support so that they can become involved in effective treatment and come out of it successfully.

It can be tough for someone to accept their mental health disorders. They may want to hide their problems, isolate themselves or avoid seeking treatment. Let them know that you’re available to listen to their problems and needs, and express your desire to work together to find a solution.

Help Them Find the Right Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment at Burning Tree Ranch

Your loved one may not be in a position to research and access the best type of treatment. This is an excellent opportunity for you to look into dual diagnosis treatment options. At Burning Tree Ranch, we are always happy to answer your questions about the diagnosis, treatment options and next steps.

Dual diagnosis is so prevalent and often leads to relapse if untreated. That’s why we are committed to offering holistic treatment that addresses all of the individual’s needs. We provide treatment for all mental health concerns in the same setting and session. Our programs are also designed to be longer than those at many other addiction treatment facilities. This allows clients to heal at their own pace.

Encouraging your loved one to connect with a dual diagnosis treatment center like Burning Tree Ranch is some of the most essential support that you can provide. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

Related articles:
The Chronic Relapser: Characteristics and Warning Signs

One of the most challenging scenarios we encounter is the “chronic relapser.” These are individuals who, despite repeated attempts at recovery, find themselves caught in a cycle of relapse. Understanding the characteristics and warning signs of chronic relapsers is crucial for developing more effective strategies to support their path to sustained recovery.

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Find Recovery, Not Just Sobriety.

KRISTINA ROBERTSON, LMSW, LCDC

KRISTINA ROBERTSON

LMSW, LCDC | Counselor
Kristina Robertson serves as Counselor at Burning Tree Ranch. Holding both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work, Kristina’s greatest joy is “watching our clients learn to love themselves again.” An avid equestrian, mother to twenty-one horses, and all-around animal lover, Kristina serves as a bright shining example of long-term recovery in action. Her commitment to whole person health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual makes her an invaluable member of the Burning Tree Ranch clinical team. As a distinguished Phi Theta Kappa and Alpha Zeta member, Kristina believes deeply in each client’s pursuit of becoming their best selves.

"who is a burning tree client?"

Beth Legacki, Burning Tree Ranch Alumni