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The world has been changing around us. Many of our socialization and recreational activities have been halted, and our freedom to move about our cities as we please has been reduced. Along with reducing freedom and autonomy stemming from social distancing measures to control the virus, there is a potential increase in mental health problems. Those impacted by COVID-19 disruptions are at risk of experiencing more depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.

What Is Teen Dual Diagnosis?

When mental health disorders are accompanied by substance abuse, it is known as a dual diagnosis situation. It is often the case that a teen who struggles with mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, will begin to use substances as a means of escaping negative feelings.

It is also the case that the use of drugs and alcohol – while possibly providing a short relief – actually contributes to an increase in mental health symptoms. Symptoms and substances work together in making the situation worse. Teen dual diagnosis treatment for such co-occurring disorders requires a unique approach.

Teen Substance Abuse Risks Related to COVID-19

Substance abuse is always a risky business. During the pandemic, it is even more so. The coronavirus is highly contagious, and it tends to attack a person’s ability to breathe. Many types of drugs also decrease the ability to take in a good, healthy breath. When the effects of the virus are added to the drugs’ effects, chances of survival can be decreased. Substances that are well known to decrease lung function and capacity include:

    • Opioids
    • Cocaine
    • Tobacco
    • Marijuana
    • Phencyclidine (PCP)
    • Methamphetamines

Teen Dual Diagnosis Treatment Is Essential

When the importance of social distancing to control the spread of the virus came to light, governments quickly decided what our country absolutely could not do without. Physical healthcare, food resources, and transportation were obvious choices. Mental health and substance abuse treatment support was placed at the top of the list of essential services.

Not only have mental health concerns been increasing over the past several years, but the impact of the virus on our society has directly contributed to increased reports of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Mental health problems are difficult enough to deal with on their own.

When substance abuse is also present, treating the underlying mental health problems can become even more difficult. In the past, treatment providers would attempt to address the substance abuse problem before moving on to the addiction’s psychological sources. Currently, providers recognize that simultaneous treatment for both disorders produces the best outcome.

Treatment Procedures Have Changed

The model of treating both mental health and substance abuse disorder simultaneously persists through this pandemic. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, however, the way that such services are delivered has been adjusted. When choosing a teen dual diagnosis treatment center, be sure to ask about the procedures that have been adopted toward keeping your teen safe.

Telemental Health and Teletherapy

As soon as social distancing measures were hinted at by government officials, providers began actively preparing to deliver mental health treatment services through telemental health. Also known as teletherapy and telehealth, telemental health refers to remote appointments conducted by healthcare providers. This can include phone calls, video conferencing, and text messaging. Ensure that your selected provider employs the telehealth service mediums designed to keep your teen’s personal information safe and secure.

Social Distancing

Many teens enjoy participating in large group activities. The presence of COVID-19 in our country has put a damper on that pastime. Schools are busy placing desks six feet apart, concerts and ceremonies have been canceled, and parties have been postponed. Teens entering treatment are likely to notice a difference in how their support groups are run, as well. There are likely to be fewer participants in each group, and the gratification of giving peers a physical hug will need to be replaced with gestures of distanced appreciation.


Even with safety measures of keeping a distance from others, additional sanitation practices are being implemented within facilities. The coronavirus is thought to exist on a surface for some time after an exposed person has interacted with it. Treatment facility rooms will be kept tidier, frequent hand washing is required, and patients may be asked to help maintain clean rooms. On the plus side, these stringent hygiene procedures can provide a teen with great training toward keeping a more tidy dwelling in the future.

Regular Testing

Teen dual diagnosis treatment programs often include regular drug testing as part of the recovery process. During these times, most are also offering support for the testing of COVID-19. Any time space is shared, such as in a treatment center, there is a risk of spreading the virus from person to person.

Fortunately, as our knowledge of the virus has increased, the availability of screening tests has also increased. If a facility detects coronavirus, or if a patient exhibits symptoms associated with the virus, programs need to have a plan in place. Treatment programs may have access to these virus tests on campus or have a system for transporting clients to a nearby testing facility.


One of the most difficult aspects of entering a teen dual diagnosis treatment facility during COVID-19 has to do with the ability to visit with loved ones. Each time that a new person is introduced into the facility, the risk of potential cross-contamination is increased. By this time, many of the social distancing regulations which prohibited all visitations have been relaxed across the nation.

Rather than barring all outside contact, treatment facilities move ahead with allowing limited and safely distanced interactions. To whatever extent possible, parents, siblings, and other family members in a teen’s treatment program are an important aspect of a successful outcome.