How to find the Right Dual Diagnosis Program

Finding the right dual diagnosis program can be a confusing endeavor for families trying to secure an appropriate treatment setting for their loved-one. What often makes this search so confusing is the number of facilities advertising that they treat dual diagnoses. There are thousands of them in the United States.

Here are some of the questions we often get asked:

  • Do these facilities really treat both disorders (mental illness and addiction)?
  • What factors do I need to consider?
  • What are the important questions to ask?
  • There is oftentimes a large discrepancy in the price, so how do I determine the best value?
  • My loved-one has been to numerous drug and alcohol facilities, nothing has worked, how do I know this won’t happen again?

The term “dual diagnosis” is used to describe the co-morbid condition of an individual suffering from both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. This condition can also be referred to as a “co-occurring disorder.” Numerous individuals fit this profile. In fact, statistics from the Journal of the American Medical Association show that roughly 50% of individuals with a severe mental illness are also affected by substance abuse. Additionally, of all people diagnosed with a mental illness, 29% abuse either drugs or alcohol.

Treating individuals with a dual set of disorders requires care that goes beyond standard therapy and/or medication. The need for employment and housing, intensive psychotherapy for both individual and family, a comprehensive, supportive daily structure, and financial and relationship management are all important facets of a complete and healthy recovery model. High-quality treatment facilities provide all of this, and with a positive, optimistic attitude that encourages and nurtures the client’s long-term well-being. Every detail of the client’s care should consider both of these disorders. Furthermore, and vitally important, is understanding what disorder is most prevalent, the mental illness or the substance abuse disorder. Determining this up front will likely save you lots of heartache and many thousands of dollars.

If an addiction is diagnosed as the primary disorder then the list of facilities one may reasonably consider is very large. Thousands of them exist throughout the U.S. – many very good, some not so good. Their program timeframes usually range from 30 to 90 days and oftentimes longer depending on individual circumstances. The costs also differ significantly from program to program. There are some operating as non-profits that charge minimal admission fees – and they tend to have long waiting lists. Others may charge as much as $60,000 per month. Hollywood celebrities tend to choose these more costly facilities because of a privacy guarantee. Many factors determine the cost including location of facility, amenities, services offered, level of privacy and staff experience, among others.

In general, having a higher price does not necessarily mean better treatment. The very expensive facilities usually provide upscale services (message, yoga, pool, etc.) and a sometimes opulent living environment but only for a short period of time (30-90 days). This timeframe may be sufficient for some, but not for others. Furthermore, the focus in these facilities is to help their clients attain sobriety as well as a strong supportive outside recovery network.

When mental illness is the primary disorder then things can start to get real confusing. Why? Because almost all of the primary addiction facilities also advertise themselves as being equipped to treat dual diagnoses (i.e treat the mental illness in addition to the substance use problem) yet they rarely clarify the treatment limitations. Many of these facilities are just not equipped to treat someone suffering from a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder – disorders that require more than 30 – 90 days of treatment at the attainment of sobriety (although very important). California is full of treatment facilities that offer dual diagnosis treatment, but are actually set up to primarily treat substance abuse. It’s important to understand that these facilities are experts at treating primary addiction, not necessarily primary mental illness. However, since many people afflicted with an addiction also have some form of mental illness, these addiction facilities must also provide some form of secondary treatment to address the mental illness. Add to that the economic reality that these facilities are in competition for market share and hence treating mental illness as a primary disorder opens them up to a much larger market….and oftentimes confusion for the consumer.

One of BrightQuest’s largest referral resources are primary addiction facilities who are able to support clients in attaining sobriety but have been unable to successfully treat severe mental disorders. As a result, these facilities often will refer their clients to other treatment programs more equipped to treat the specific mental illness needs of the client, a treatment program that treats mental illness as a primary disorder.

How does one determine whether or not a facility treats mental illness as a primary disorder?

To start, thoroughly check out the facility’s website; in fact, do this before you even pick up the phone. Go to the homepage and read about their program. Notice what the focus is – addiction or mental illness – and notice that the focus is rarely both. For nearly all facilities you will probably have your answer by simply doing this cursory search. If you like to do your research by searching by topics, phrases or keywords (i.e. “schizophrenia treatment”), keep in mind that one “trick” of the trade is for facilities to design landing pages that take the user to a specialty page which provides detail about that specific disorder the user had just searched (i.e. schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, etc). This makes the user believe the specified disorder is one the facility specializes in treating.

Another thing to keep in mind when searching topics is the difference between sponsored links and organic search results. Any facility willing to pay a specific amount of money can buy keywords and phrases and essentially put themselves in a high priority position on the right hand side of the page (sponsored links). Oftentimes a consumer will assume since the company is listed at the top of the page they must be the more appropriate choice. This is not necessarily the case, so beware.

Conversely, when searching for a topic and observing the results, pay close attention to the organic search results (left side of the page, typically below a few purchased ads). These are the results of a search that search engines, using their “crawler” algorithms, have determined as the most relevant. These results cannot be purchased and are generally more relevant than the sponsored links on the right side – but not always. Either way, make sure to thoroughly review the website and specifically the homepage.

In summary, there are two types of dual diagnosis facilities: 1) Those that treat mental illness as a primary disorder and addiction secondary; and 2) Those that treat addiction as a primary disorder and mental illness secondary. Once you determine where your loved-one fits, use these simple suggestions and the result may save you thousands of dollars, significant heartache and most importantly will have helped get your loved-one the treatment he/she deserves.