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Importance of The Continuum of Care in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Importance of The Continuum of Care in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

A common societal misconception about addiction is that the disorder can be “fixed” or “cured”. Recovery from the disease of addiction demands a lifelong approach to treatment. Many individuals assume that detox and treatment are the only methods required to achieve long term sobriety. Rehabilitation is often considered a pit stop for individuals who have hit rock bottom and are seeking temporary relief. However, addiction treatment is far more complex. Instead, clients should be monitored over an extended period of time to ensure continuous progress in their recovery.


Although there is no cure for addiction, it can be treated effectively with a comprehensive approach to the disease. To achieve this level of treatment, Carolina Center for Recovery, in North Carolina, provides a full continuum of care to each client – giving each individual the best opportunity for a new life – free from their behavioral and mental health issues.


What is the Continuum of Care?

The continuum of care describes the process of treating addiction and behavioral health (dual diagnosis) in the most complete and effective way. This specific method of treatment incorporates the standards of treatment that are proven to be the most effective and affirms that treatment should take place over a significant period of time. The goal is to ease the client back into living independently once he/she has received the necessary treatment. The continuum of addiction care is the general name for a process that begins with the intake process into a residential rehab facility and tapers with outpatient treatment. Ultimately it describes the levels of addiction care. Effective addiction treatment continues after the facility’s involvement and ends with a continuum of community support. 


The medical definition of what the continuum of care actually means is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine

“The ASAM Criteria text describes treatment as a continuum marked by four broad levels of service and an early intervention level. Within the five broad levels of care, decimal numbers are used to further express gradations of intensity of services. These levels of care provide a standard nomenclature for describing the continuum of recovery-oriented addiction services. With the ASAM CONTINUUM™, clinicians are able to conduct a multidimensional assessment that explores individual risks and needs, as well as strengths, skills, and resources. ASAM CONTINUUM then provides clinicians with a recommended ASAM Level of Care that matches the intensity of treatment services to identified patient needs.”


The most important aspect of the continuum of care for dual diagnosis treatment is individualized care. Every individual who suffers from addiction and mental illness is unique and experiences the co-occurring disorders in different ways. Therefore, each individual requires an individualized treatment plan that is tailored to address his/her specific needs. Some of the steps typically included in a continuum of care include the following:


  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
  • Outpatient programs (OP)
  • Sober living
  • Active participation in 12-Step programs such as NA, AA, CA, or other recovery support groups
  • Active involvement with treatment center alumni programs


The intensity of support will gradually decrease over time as the client progresses in his/her own recovery. The goal is for the individual to begin practicing healthy coping skills and becoming more solid in their recovery. As the individual continues to grow in their sobriety, they will step down from a higher level of care to a lower one.


Why is a Continuum of Care Important for Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Many addiction-related habits can be very difficult to break. There is no quick fix for addiction or mental health disorders, which is why each disorder should be treated on a long term basis in order for the individuals to heal, develop healthy coping skills, and ultimately stay sober.


It is not uncommon for recovering addicts to struggle when making the transition from inpatient rehab to outpatient rehab. Many people get acclimated to the structure within an inpatient rehabilitation level of care. In addition, leaving the confines of the protected environment may expose individuals to physical and emotional triggers. 


Intensive Outpatient Program

Implementing a continuum of care can help mitigate the transition to independent living. When actively participating in IOP, clients will spend considerable amounts of time still receiving treatment and support. Each client will have the space to discuss their triggers, emotions, and daily stressors in individual therapy as well as group therapy with their peers. This continuum of care reinforces healthy coping skills, mitigate cravings, cope with triggers, learn healthy ways to deal with stress, and practice healthy communication skills while adjusting to their newfound independence.


Outpatient Program

Once clients are able to find a job, display confidence in their ability to live independently, and effectively utilizing their coping skills, they will move down to an outpatient level of care. During this phase of treatment, each individual will participate in therapy during scheduled hours that complement their working hours. Ultimately, the individuals are allowed more independence while still actively receiving support from their treatment center.


Sober Living

It’s no secret that addicts and alcoholics typically resist change. Many newly recovering addicts/alcoholics have grown accustomed to their active addiction lifestyle and often find the structured environment of sober living to be a challenge. However, recovery is all about evolving individually and challenging the old ideas that lead to his/her destructive behaviors. It is by trusting the process and walking through the fear of structured transitional living that most addicts find the most personal growth and typically flourish in their sobriety. Finding a positive and connected community, of other recovering addicts and alcoholics living together, is suggested as the first step after departing from treatment. 


Alumni and Aftercare

Alumni and aftercare programs offer a strong support system for recovering addicts. Aftercare options generally include group meetings such as AA, NA, CA, and other recovery support groups. Dual diagnosis treatment programs in North Carolina that approach treatment using a continuum of care often experience lower relapse rates as well as a higher percentage of individuals who complete their treatment program. 


Individual therapy sessions and other options for care available for mental and behavioral health needs are typically offered to clients long after clients complete inpatient programs. Every client should receive care on an individual basis. As a result, individuals will receive tailored care to suit their unique needs. 


Although the individual pathway to sobriety often varies for each individual, the goals of a continuum of care are universal (outlined by Mee-Lee and Shulman): 


  • Help individuals achieve long term sobriety
  • Encourage individuals to implement behavioral changes that support a healthy lifestyle
  • Facilitate participation in community support groups 
  • Assist patients in addressing and treating their mental health
  • Help clients develop a strong support network
  • Improve effective problem-solving skills and coping strategies


Continuum of Care at Carolina Center for Recovery in Charlotte, North Carolina

Carolina Center for Recovery’s staff is comprised of some of the most qualified and addiction specialists in the country. We pride ourselves on understanding the importance of the continuum of care when treating patients with co-occurring disorders. Our individualized methods of treating dual diagnosis patients focus on making the connection between addiction and mental health while implementing healthy coping mechanisms to reduce the chances of relapse after treatment. 


Our comprehensive, compassionate and unique treatment helps build a foundation for a healthy recovery and sober future. Clients at Carolina Center for Recovery undergo a personalized journey through one of our highly effective treatment programs. They’re specifically assigned to licensed mental health counselors, certified addiction professionals or master-level therapists. The professionals not only specialize in the issues they’re facing but are paired with them based on their needs. And clients experience the warmth and compassion of an entire staff that cares deeply about their success.


For more information, give Carolina Center for Recovery a call today!