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Why Appropriate Diagnosis Is Crucial for Helping Women Create an Individualized Approach to Care

Individuals struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems are highly encouraged to participate in a professional treatment program to secure and sustain recovery. Many individuals who accept their need for help, however, willingly leave their treatment plans in the hands of treatment professionals without exercising a sense of agency in their own care. This lack of collaboration with treatment professionals can cause professionals to conduct improper diagnoses, among various other concerns, leading to ineffective care. Understanding the necessity of an appropriate diagnosis and its role in informing an individualized approach to care ensures that clients can establish lasting healing and recovery in their lives.

At Avery Lane, we offer comprehensive treatment programs for women struggling with substance abuse, dual diagnoses, and trauma-related concerns. As we are a primary substance abuse treatment facility, we offer a wide range of therapeutic approaches aimed at treating the underlying cause of recurrent substance use. For many, these underlying causes include mental health problems as well as untreated trauma. Further, our use of individualized care works to ensure whole-person recovery, with effective treatment plans developing from an appropriate diagnosis.

What Is an Individualized Approach to Care?

Many decades ago, when treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders initially began, professionals utilized a non-person-centered approach, also referred to as a one-size-fits-all approach. In a nutshell, this means that clients who were experiencing the same condition or symptoms were given the same exact treatment plan to follow as a means of securing sobriety and/or recovery. Over time, not only did research discover that this approach caused clients to lack choice and empowerment in their own care, but it also addressed the ineffectiveness of this approach in sustaining long-term recovery.

According to an article by Behavioral Sciences, “Modern health services now strive for individualized treatment,” as it fosters a comprehensive, progressive, and personalized approach to healing and recovery. An individualized approach to care is a person-centered approach to care, working to identify and address clients’ unique needs and goals for recovery.

The Problems of a Non-Person-Centered Approach

When a non-person-centered approach to care was the status quo, an individual would be diagnosed and treated solely based on their symptoms or complaints. For example, consider a client experiencing recurring sadness lasting longer than two weeks. Although this client struggles with recurrent alcohol use, they decide not to tell their care team. As a result, this client is diagnosed with depression, and their treatment plan involves prescription medication, like antidepressants, alongside participation in therapy.

A few weeks of treatment go by, and the client experiences no resolution of their symptoms; rather, their symptoms get more severe over time. Furthermore, the client’s alcohol use has grown stronger in an attempt to cope with the ineffectiveness of their treatment plan.

One of the most obvious concerns of a non-person-centered treatment approach is that it does not recognize the value of an appropriate diagnosis. As a result, clients experience recurring misdiagnoses, missed diagnoses, and ineffective treatment overall. Further, this type of approach also does not aim to treat the underlying cause of maladaptive behavior. Without treating the underlying causes for concern, symptoms will likely resurface in the future more severely than before. In other words, in modern-day treatment, those who are not treated as a whole person through an individualized approach to care are at risk of experiencing worsening symptoms as well as future relapse throughout long-term recovery.

Understanding the Value of an Individualized Treatment Plan for Lasting Recovery

As no two individuals are the same or experience the same symptoms of concern, no two individuals should share the same treatment plan, either. Rather than treating an individual solely based on their diagnosis or set of symptoms through a one-size-fits-all approach, an individualized approach to care identifies and treats all biological, psychological, and social factors that serve as root causes of maladaptive behavior. This offers the client the best chance at establishing and maintaining lasting recovery from their condition, symptoms, and root causes in tandem.

Upon initial evaluation for an individualized treatment program, professionals conduct thorough assessments of each client and obtain as much information as possible to curate the most effective treatment plan for them. Some important factors that are taken into consideration when crafting an individualized treatment plan include the client’s:

  • Appropriate diagnosis (or diagnoses)
  • Mental health and/or substance abuse concerns
  • Family history of substance use and mental health disorders
  • Social influences and support systems
  • Physical, mental, and emotional health
  • Personal values
  • Established forms of coping
  • History of trauma
  • Treatment past
  • Goals for recovery

One of the most important factors of an individualized approach to care is that individualized treatment plans are living documents, meaning that they are continually altered and updated throughout a client’s treatment journey. Just as a client’s needs are everchanging, their treatment plan must also adapt to fit these needs. Working with a professional to monitor recovery progress and alter treatment plans is an essential element of a successful individualized approach to care in recovery.

Obtaining an Appropriate Diagnosis: Identify Warning Signs and Symptoms

As mentioned previously, an individualized approach to care is a collaborative process requiring consistent communication between a client and their professional treatment team. Open and honest communication is necessary as early as a client accepts their need for treatment and steps foot into a facility for an initial evaluation. This ongoing dialogue facilitates a strong therapeutic alliance between a client and a professional, enabling a proper and appropriate diagnosis to be made.

Exercising honesty for the first time with a treatment professional can be daunting, especially if an individual does not know what things to say or share. Whether an individual is contemplating their need for treatment, encouraging a loved one to pursue treatment, or already participating in a treatment program, it can be especially helpful to know how to identify and address warning signs and symptoms for SUD and other mental health problems. Moreover, identifying warning signs can help individuals better understand what symptoms are worth noting to a treatment professional during intake or, even more simply, what types of concerns are worth seeking treatment for.

An Appropriate Diagnosis of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Addiction

Understanding what SUD and addiction are plays a key role in understanding an individual’s need for treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications. Symptoms can be moderate to severe, with addiction being the most severe form of SUD.

It is important to understand that addiction knows no bounds. It can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, or occupation. Similarly, there is no one factor that influences the development of SUD or addiction. Rather, these conditions develop through a combination of risk factors, including trauma or early exposure to alcohol and other drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights the following warning signs that may indicate the presence of SUD or addiction:

  • Spending time with new friend groups, particularly those who engage in recurrent substance use
  • Dismissing physical appearance
  • Low academic achievement
  • Getting in trouble in school or with the law
  • Experiencing more conflict among family members and friends
  • Having different eating or sleeping habits
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed

Furthermore, there are specific criteria that an individual needs to meet to be given an appropriate diagnosis of SUD. A publication titled Substance Use Screening and Risk Assessment in Adults, published by Johns Hopkins University, notes the following criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5):

Criteria 1-4: Impaired control over substance use

  • Consuming a substance in greater quantities (or for longer durations) than initially intended
  • Persistent desire to cut back or regulate substance use
  • Spending significant amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from substance use
  • Experiencing cravings when not using

Criteria 5-7: Social impairment

  • Alcohol or drug use is impairing ability to fulfill major responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Continuing to use substances despite the consequences they are causing to daily life
  • Spending less time in recreational, social, or occupational activities to engage in substance use

Criteria 8-9: Risky use

  • Using substances in physically unsafe environments
  • Continuing to engage in substance use despite the knowledge that doing so may exacerbate already existing psychological problems

Criteria 10-11: Pharmacologic

  • Tolerance: Individual needs to use substances in greater quantities to achieve the desired effect, or a typical dose has a reduced effect
  • Withdrawal: A set of uncomfortable symptoms that surface when a substance is no longer present in the body after the body has become accustomed to recurrent substance use

An Appropriate Diagnosis of Mental Health Disorders

When it comes to obtaining an appropriate diagnosis of mental health disorders, assessment may be more complex. This is because symptoms are not tied to one particular behavior; rather, they are tied to the complex interactions of thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Thus, identifying warning signs for emotional distress is a great place to start, as it generalizes common signs and symptoms for various mental health disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes the following warning signs of emotional distress:

  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
  • Developing isolationist tendencies; withdrawing from friend groups
  • Having little or no energy
  • Struggling to concentrate or retain information learned throughout the day
  • Experiencing chronic aches and pains with no identifiable cause
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Excessive substance use
  • Chronic worrying
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Struggling to adjust during major life transitions
  • Increased conflict with loved ones
  • Inability to persevere when faced with stress

It is true that any of these symptoms may surface temporarily as a result of various lifestyle changes. However, if these symptoms become chronic (do not let up with time) or begin to interfere with daily functioning, it may be an indication of a mental health disorder.

There are numerous types of mental health disorders, each with its own unique set of symptoms and etiology. Here is a brief overview of each category of mental health disorders and the most associated complaints:

  • Depressive disorders: Characterized by persistent sadness and lack of interest in activities once found pleasurable
  • Anxiety disorders: Characterized by persistent worry or fear that impacts well-being
  • Personality disorders: Characterized by disruptions in patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that deviate from normal cultural expectations
  • Trauma-related disorders: Characterized by emotional and behavioral concerns that result from traumatic or otherwise stressful experiences
  • Psychotic disorders: Characterized by abnormal thinking and perceptions that cause individuals to lose touch with reality
  • Other mood disorders: Characterized by distortions or inconsistencies with mood and current circumstances

Similar to SUD and addiction, mental health disorders know no bounds and develop from a combination of risk factors. In addition, they can develop at any point in an individual’s life.

Many people live with mental health disorders for months or years before recognizing their need to pursue professional treatment. Due to the complex nature of mental health disorders, however, they often worsen if they are left untreated. By identifying the signs of emotional distress as well as the general characteristics of each category of mental health disorders, individuals can work to obtain an appropriate diagnosis and begin treatment sooner than later.

An Appropriate Diagnosis of Dual Diagnoses

Despite SUD and mental health disorders often being recognized as separate areas of concern, research confirms that these conditions often overlap, thus posing significant issues for treatment and recovery. According to NIDA, comorbidity occurs “when a person has two or more disorders at the same time or one after the other. This occurs frequently with substance use and mental disorders. Comorbidity also means that interactions between these two disorders can worsen the course of both.”

Moreover, NIDA also highlights the prevalence of co-occurring mental health disorders and SUD, stating, “Of the 20.3 million adults with [SUD], 37.9% also had mental illnesses.” Further, “Among the 42.1 million adults with mental illness, 18.2% also had [SUD].”

In treatment, coexisting conditions are referred to as dual diagnoses. Obtaining an appropriate diagnosis of dual diagnosis is vital to individualized care as it ensures that all conditions are being recognized and addressed in treatment. Still, separating these conditions and diagnosing them individually can be difficult, as both SUD and mental health disorders often share similar symptoms and underlying causes.

In addition to shared risk factors, the NIMH highlights two other possibilities that may explain why SUD and mental illness often co-occur:

  • Mental health disorders may inform substance abuse through self-medicating practices, thus triggering the development of chemical dependence or SUD
  • Substance use may inform the development of mental health disorders, as alcohol and drug use alters brain structure and functioning, making an individual more vulnerable to mental illness

Using an Appropriate Diagnosis to Inform an Individualized Approach to Care at Avery Lane

At Avery Lane, we know that addiction rarely occurs in isolation. For this reason, we prioritize dual diagnosis treatment and recovery by addressing all underlying conditions and concerns related to substance abuse. By treating the core issue(s), clients are given their best chance at securing and sustaining lasting recovery from substance abuse and any associated emotional distress.

In addition to individualized treatment plans, our individualized treatment programs at Avery Lane also incorporate the following:

  • Medical monitoring
  • Medication maintenance
  • Goal-specific individual therapy and case management sessions
  • Energy psychology individual sessions
  • Core-issue specific assignments
  • Family visitation and family support sessions
  • Ability to maintain business through scheduled working hours
  • Individual recommendations for length of stay
  • Aftercare and discharge planning
  • Small, supportive environment conducive to healing

As we are a women’s-only treatment facility, we believe in the power of women healing among other women alongside using an individualized approach to care. Women’s-only treatment empowers women to honor their complex and ever-changing needs. It fosters confidence, comfort, and empowerment, enabling women to support themselves and each other throughout their lifelong healing processes.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or co-occurring mental health problems, it is vital to understand that treatment is available and recovery is possible. Modern health services prioritize appropriate diagnosis alongside an individualized approach to care as it fosters a whole-person approach to treatment and recovery, enabling more effective treatment and lasting recovery. At Avery Lane, we offer multiple levels of treatment for women to accommodate every client and their ever-changing needs. From detoxification to residential treatment to various outpatient programs and more, our programs are individualized to meet each client’s unique needs and recovery goals. To learn more about our programs and resources, call (800) 270-2406.

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