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Help choosing a substance abuse and mood disorder treatment center

There are certain things you need to know when looking for an appropriate substance abuse treatment center that will also help with the treatment of a mood disorder. Dual-diagnosis is an important factor whether or not the person addicted has been already diagnosed with a mental disorder or not. Here are some things to consider when looking for an addiction treatment facility to help overcome substance abuse and mental health issues.


Do make sure treatment is provided by a multidisciplinary team of clinical professionals

A multidisciplinary team means that an individual is treated by physicians, therapists, nurses, a psychiatrist and a registered dietitian, if appropriate. When dealing with addiction and mood disorders, this team approach is essential.

Consider this: if a child breaks her arm, a cast is placed on the arm, and the bone heals. This is simple and straightforward. Conversely, when an individual is struggling with an addiction and mood disorder, the process of healing is far more challenging, simply because the issues compelling these conditions are far more complex. A medical doctor must evaluate and monitor the person’s overall health; a therapist must get at what triggered and is driving the substance abuse and mood disorder; a psychiatrist must determine, prescribe and monitor necessary medications designed to facilitate recovery, and discontinue medications which might interfere with recovery. If necessary, a dietitian must help educate an individual on what healthy eating looks like; a team of qualified nurses must provide the medical and emotional support required as the person moves through treatment.

The necessity of a multi-disciplinary team cannot be understated. Unless all aspects of the individual are addressed – the mind, body, soul and spirit – healing may occur on one level, but not all. In the former example of the girl with the broken arm, it would be as if the cast was taken off very prematurely. The bone had begun to heal, but remained fragile. In no time, it breaks again. The same could happen to an under-treated individual; however, instead of a re-broken bone, it would be called a relapse.

Do make sure the program is accredited

Just as you would want the food on your dinner table to be FDA approved, you want any treatment program to be certified, licensed and accredited. This means it has received approval from such agencies or organizations as the Joint Commission (JCAHO) and the Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (DASA in Illinois). The former is the gold standard in the realm of accreditation and the latter is essential when substance abuse is part of the clinical picture. Accreditation and/or licensure should be posted on the website; if not, ask someone at the facility.

Do schedule an assessment to determine appropriate level of care

Level of care refers to how intensive a treatment program is, which is directly related to the current severity of the problem. Inpatient treatment is the highest level of care – often, these programs are located in hospitals. If an addiction or disorder is life-threatening due to physiological or psychological issues, inpatient psychiatric hospitalization would be recommended once someone is medically cleared.
A Residential treatment program is the next highest level of care available. In residential programs, patients focus on treatment for a longer period of time, usually for a minimum of 28 days. Finally, Partial Hospitalization Programs and Intensive Outpatient Programs allow patients to attend treatment while living off site, either at home or in a transitional living environment.

Determining the appropriate level of care requires an assessment of the individual. Start by consulting an outpatient therapist if possible; if the individual does not have a counselor presently, she could consult with her primary care physician. This should be followed up by a screening from the recommended treatment facility, which can be done by phone or in person.

Do be honest

When interacting with a treatment facility, don’t minimize the severity of the problem. Whether you are calling about your own treatment needs, or those of a spouse or child, represent the addiction or disorder at hand as truthfully as possible. Perhaps you have spent months, or even years, either denying that a problem exists, or drastically minimizing the impact it has on your life or the lives of others. Although we genuinely respect why you felt the need to do this, all dissembling must stop. Do not say, “My wife has a bit of a drinking problem.” Do say, “My wife is intoxicated by noon everyday; she can no longer take care of the home or our children.” Use as many details and specific examples as possible. You are not outing her, you are simply conveying the truth in order that she can get the help she needs.

Do get a sense of the program

If you can tour the facility and/or speak directly to members of the staff, do. If that is not possible, due to location, perhaps a virtual tour is available. Some treatment programs have an active alumnae population. Ask if you could speak to one of these former residents to learn more about the program from a patient’s perspective.


Do not believe that you are alone in this…even when you feel that way

Throughout the United States there are thousands of treatment centers and programs. This is because mental health issues are so prevalent today. You are not the first, and certainly far from the last, who either struggles with a psychiatric problem, or knows someone who does. Addictions and psychiatric disorders often co-occur; in fact, it is incredibly rare to need intensive treatment and have a single diagnosis. It is common for a person to struggle with chemical addiction and a mood disorder. You are not alone. There are a host of professionals out there who not only understand what you are going through, but are more than willing and capable of providing the help you require. This only underscores the previous admonishment to be honest. Experienced behavioral health professionals have heard it all, and seen it all. Your personal revelations will not shock them. They need to know the truth in order to give you the best treatment.

Do not base treatment program decisions exclusively on location or finances

Someone you love needs treatment. What you are searching for is the best possible care, not the most convenient care. Please do not confine your search to your city, or even state. Excellent treatment translates into the best possible chance for a complete and lifelong recovery. A loved one traveling several states away for care may mean you cannot visit on weekends. Although this may be distressing, especially if the loved one is a child, focus on the hundreds of weekends the future will hold with a healthy child.

Similarly, don’t select a program because it is the least expensive. Again, we have the utmost respect for the fact that funds may be limited and treatment can be costly. Therefore, explore all financial options. Certainly, begin with health insurance if you have it. Every single company and policy is different regarding coverage. You must research what your coverage entails. Personal finances may come into play; you may have to request help from family and friends, perhaps a church or other organization. Although this may seem uncomfortable or daunting at the time, far better to request a little help, than have the person you care about receive substandard or inadequate care. The truth is, if the care is not good, additional treatment will be required, ultimately costing more.

Do not delay treatment

Once you have determined the program, move on it. Delays often result in ambivalence. If you are the person who needs help, don’t get caught up in minutia: who will do the laundry, what about that dental appointment next week, what if, what if…. if you wait for the perfect time to get treatment, you never will. Your life and wellbeing are not worth the risk of waiting.

If the individual is a family member and is resistant to treatment, expect requests for delays at every turn: an adolescent must stay home for the next two months because the volleyball team needs her; a mother claims she made a commitment to this or that organization and can’t let them down. Always keep in mind that the earlier treatment is sought, the better the chance of recovery. Intervention professionals can be helpful when your loved one is in denial of the urgency to seek treatment for his or her problems.

Do not fall victim to the idea that this will resolve itself on its own

Hope and optimism are so profoundly wonderful. However, in certain situations, they can be counterproductive. Perhaps you catch a glimpse of the way a person used to be, or you believe that with just a little more time, the situation will improve. Unfortunately, that is most likely just not the case when it comes to addiction and mental illness. Addictions and mental disorders rarely resolve on their own. For a multitude of reasons, people don’t just get better. If an individual has participated in outpatient care for a prolonged time and is not displaying significant improvement, a higher level of care is probably needed.

Do not be rigid about program requirements

Every treatment program is unique; each offers different therapeutic strategies. You, or a loved one, might really believe in acupuncture, but if a program does not offer this, don’t immediately rule it out. Don’t have a long list of deal breakers; often these are just another way of avoiding treatment. Similarly, don’t say “I will not go to treatment because I don’t want to share a room with another woman.” Here is the reality - treatment is not a vacation; it is very serious business. If you want and need care that has the power to dramatically improve your health, positively impact your relationships and drastically change the course of your life for the better, then seek out and get the quality treatment you deserve.

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Millions of people today struggle with mood disorders and addiction. Although outpatient therapy can prove very valuable, a higher level of care is sometimes required.

Choosing a program that is right for you, or someone you love, takes time and thought. This article offers suggestions that are designed to help in this extremely important selection process.

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Kim Dennis MD, CEDSMedical Director and CEO

Dr. Kim Dennis is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorder treatment, addictions recovery, trauma / PTSD and co-occurring disorders. As CEO & Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, she superv...

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