The Treatment of Co-occurring Disorders Continued
In a sense, the difficulty with treating co-occurring disorders can be categorized as an ordering problem: Which do you treat first? The contemporary answer is, "Both." Such an approach is called a dual-diagnosis approach. A dual-diagnosis approach readily acknowledges the inter-relationship between dual disorders so that both conditions are addressed simultaneously. The therapist works to help the client understand this inter-relationship as well.
Here is an example of how a dual-diagnosis approach to therapy might be conducted: Suppose a client has problems with Alcohol Abuse and also has a Borderline Personality Disorder. Treatment would address the problems associated with excessive drinking and the problems associated with Borderline Personality Disorder such as interpersonal difficulties, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviors, and emotional dys-regulation. Furthermore, the relationship between the two sets of problems would be addressed; i.e., how one set of problems leads to, or worsens the other set of problems, and visa versa. Continuing with our example, someone with Borderline Personality Disorder might drink in order to cope with very intense emotions. The person would be guided to understand that while alcohol "solves" one set of problems (difficulty regulating intense emotions) it leads to another set of problems because alcohol consumption causes poor judgment and disinhibition thereby worsening the other set of problems of the Borderline Disorder (impulsivity, self-destructive behaviors, interpersonal conflict).
Through a dual diagnosis treatment approach, the client would begin to recognize that while alcohol may solve the immediate problem of regulating intense emotion, it only worsens the other problems associated with the Borderline Disorder; in effect, solving nothing. When understood from this integrative, "dual" perspective, it becomes easier for the client to make the wiser choice not to drink. Moreover, the therapy would involve assisting the person to rapidly learn to better regulate emotions since this symptom underlies the problem drinking. For instance, some of the emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills taught in the Dialectical Behavior Therapy modules would be very beneficial. Meanwhile, the therapist and the client would be simultaneously working on strategies and techniques to discontinue drinking such as increasing social support, perhaps through a program such as AA, participating in stress reduction activities such as yoga, and learning relapse prevention skills.
In summary, acute, high-risk behaviors must be addressed first. Once stabilized, a dual-diagnosis approach designed to treat both disorders simultaneously provides the most effective approach for treating co-occurring disorders.