Dual Diagnosis: Recovery Unplugged's Unique Approach to Addiction and Mental Illness

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 14, 2020

Dual Diagnosis: Recovery Unplugged's Unique Approach to Addiction and Mental Illness
  (Source:Recovery Unplugged)

Hillary Harris was 15 when she overdosed on alcohol and had to have her stomach pumped. By her senior year of high school, she was shooting heroin, a development, the Austin, Texas resident says, that had a lot to do with being gay—or, more precisely, how society responded to it.

Harris, who largely credits her current 18-month-long sobriety to her stay at treatment center Recovery Unplugged, adds, "I've been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD and a lot of that comes from feelings of being different, outcasted and not enough. Without the substance, I was afraid to be around people, because I didn't believe I could be enough or lovable."

Studies have shown that nearly 40 percent of queer adults have grappled with mental illness in the past year, as compared to 18 percent of the general public. Betsi Kreshover, northeast outreach manager for Recovery Unplugged, says those illnesses tend to look quite a bit like what Harris experienced.

Betsi Kreshover, northeast outreach manager for Recovery Unplugged,
Betsi Kreshover, northeast outreach manager for Recovery Unplugged,  (Source: Recovery Unplugged)

"What I see a lot of, specifically in the LGBTQ+ community, is depression, anxiety, even things like self-harm and eating disorders," notes Kreshover, who identifies as a lesbian. "People in the LGBTQ+ community might have felt judged or afraid to express who they were growing up, or perhaps their family of origin blatantly expressed disapproval of people in the LGBTQ+ community. So, I think the higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse is a result of some level of trauma during childhood or adolescence."

What makes helping queer addicts and those with mental illness thornier is that they are often the same. According to research, half of people with substance use disorders will develop a mental illness and vice versa. To help people beat both diseases at once, Recovery Unplugged has been accredited as a dual diagnosis program, meaning that in addition to drug treatment, they are also certified to treat co-occurring disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Clients entering Recovery Unplugged detox facilities like the Nashville location will not only undergo a full pre-admission assessment but will also meet with a therapist and a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner every day during their seven-day detox. After that, clients receive another psychiatric evaluation and have sessions with a therapist and a medical provider once or twice a week, depending on their needs, for as long as they are in residential treatment. Group therapy is part of the plan, while medication is a possibility. There is no cookie-cutter template—treatment is always individualized.

That includes Recovery Unplugged's use of music, perhaps the single most innovative tool utilized in substance abuse treatment today. Music might, for example, be used to break down the walls addicts build to separate themselves from their loved ones.

"Very often, we have the family members dedicate a song to their loved one while they're with us," says Ian Jackson, Recovery Unplugged Nashville clinical director says. "Every time I've put that song on, and said, 'Hey, your brother, your sister, your mother, father, wanted to dedicate this song to you,' it's so much more powerful than the conversations that they have with them. Because many of [their relationships] are so tainted with pain, resentment and anger, it's hard for them to speak to one another."

In the same way 25,000 people at a concert who are singing the same song might feel a powerful rapport, music is also used to help connect people in group therapy. Once that connection is established, feelings of isolation and loneliness are lessened, clients experience acceptance, and, finally, true healing can begin.

As Harris says, "Recovery Unplugged was one of the first places I started to build community with other people... it was a spiritual experience to be able to be in a group of people and be open and not feel like a freak or uncomfortable."

Recently, a transgender woman who had been in and out of treatment told Jackson she experienced much the same thing in the Nashville facility.

"She said it was the first time she felt accepted by the staff and community and comfortable enough to talk in treatment about herself, and she'd been to treatment seven times," says Jackson. "It's not only the music that makes us different; it's how we treat the clients. It all starts with treating your client with the utmost respect."

Are you or someone you love struggling with drugs or alcohol? Recovery Unplugged offers LGBTQ-welcoming substance abuse treatment. Visit recoveryunplugged.com or call 855-909-8818.

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Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.