The 4 Things to Keep in Mind When Treating Dual-Diagnosis Adolescents


Dealing with a child suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues can feel like a never-ending game of chicken or the egg. Is the substance use a form of self-medication for mental health issues or did the mental health problems start due to the substances?! One problem is hard enough to handle, two can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, dual-diagnosis adolescent treatment programs exist. These facilities are designed to treat both substance use and mental health issues alongside one another rather than separately. In this blog, we will explore four key factors essential for effectively treating co-occurring substance use and mental health issues in adolescents.

Integrated Treatment: A Holistic Approach to Healing

A co-occurring disorder is a “combination of two or more substance use disorders and mental disorders” as identified in the DSM-V. Rather than addressing these issues in isolation, like many traditional adolescent treatment programs do, a dual-diagnosis treatment program recognizes that substance use and mental health are intertwined. They are 2 parts of the same thing. Imagine treatment as a puzzle where each piece is essential to see the larger whole. Integrated treatment works the same way. 

This approach generally includes a mix of counseling, medication, and support groups. By addressing both aspects simultaneously, integrated plans offer a more complete path to recovery. Think of it as tackling the roots of the problem rather than just the visible symptoms. 

Spotting the Early Signs: A User Manual for Parents & Educators

Early intervention is critical to identifying and addressing potential co-occurring disorders. As parents and adults, we’ve got to be cognizant of the early signs so we can step with treatment to prevent escalation. Teachers, guardians, and healthcare providers should be on the lookout for changes in behavior, struggles with academics, shifts in mood, and social isolation. 

Preventive measures, such as mental health education programs in schools, can also play a vital role. By promoting awareness and teaching coping skills, adolescents may develop healthier mechanisms for dealing with stress and emotional challenges, reducing the likelihood of turning to substances as a coping mechanism.

 Family Support: The Pillar of Strength

The role of family support in treating co-occurring disorders cannot be overstated. Family dynamics often serve as the backdrop for a teen's struggles. Adolescents are deeply influenced by their family dynamics, and involving parents or guardians in the treatment process can enhance its effectiveness. Family therapy sessions can address communication issues, improve understanding, and foster a supportive environment at home.

Family involvement not only fosters better communication but also equips parents with the knowledge to provide ongoing support. This support is like a safety net, preventing teens from slipping back into old habits and promoting lasting recovery. Building a strong family support system can be a key factor in the successful treatment of co-occurring disorders in adolescents.

Cultural Understanding: Bridging the Gap

Understanding the cultural context of an adolescent's life is essential for providing effective treatment. Teens come from diverse cultural backgrounds, each with its own set of values and traditions. Cultural competence is like speaking the same language; it involves understanding and respecting these differences. Adolescents may be more comfortable seeking help from professionals who understand and appreciate their cultural context. Imagine treatment plans tailored to fit the unique needs and preferences of each individual, increasing the chances of success.

Moving Forward

Addressing co-occurring substance use and mental health issues in adolescents requires a multifaceted approach that considers the interconnected nature of these challenges. Through these efforts, we can pave the way for a healthier and more resilient generation, breaking the cycle of substance use and mental health challenges in adolescence.

If your child or someone you love is struggling with co-occurring issues, call Sustain Recovery today. Whether lending a listening ear, providing helpful resources, answering questions, or walking you through our program, we’re here to help.