An Integrated Treatment Approach for Severely Mentally Ill Individuals with Substance Disorders
(As printed in Chapter 6 of New Directions For Mental Health Services, No. 50, Summer 1991: Jossey-Bass, Publishers.) The author, Kathleen Sciacca can be reached at: 212-866-5935.

Kathleen Sciacca

The step-by-step approach to integrated treatment for multiple disorders described in this chapter can be replicated at minimal cost in any type of mental health treatment program or service.

According to the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) (Talbott, 1987), at least 50 percent of the 1.5 to 2 million Americans with severe mental illness abuse illicit drugs or alcohol, compared to 15 percent of the general population. This finding is consistent with earlier epidemiological studies reporting that 25 to 50 percent of newly admitted psychiatric patients have concomitant drug and/or alcohol abuse problems (Simon, Epstein and Reynolds, 1968; Crowley, Chesluk, Dilts, and Hart, 1974; Davis, 1984; Kofoed, Kania, Walsh, and Atkinson, 1986). Similarly, in New York State, the Commission on Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled (1986) found that 50 percent of the patients admitted for psychiatric care had alcohol or drug abuse that required treatment. Despite this high prevalence of combined mental illness and substance abuse, treatment resources are scarce. This author's review (1989a) of 100 clients in psychiatric outpatient services in New York State who had received extensive psychiatric care and who were known substance abusers revealed that 61 of the clients had never received substance abuse treatment. The remaining clients received minimal attention to their substance abuse, and had never been in any form of sustained substance abuse treatment. Many of these clients accepted the lack of availability of substance abuse services, and kept their substance abuse problems to themselves. Clearly, in many patients, mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism are not encountered as discrete disorders. Yet, those services that are available for these patients are divided by funding sources, admission criteria, treatment methods, and staff training and philosophy (Ridgely, Goldman, and Willenbring, 1990).

Rectifying the lack of treatment resources for multiply diagnosed patients requires a comprehensive approach, integrating mental health and addiction treatment in a single program design. Multiple disorders are often undiagnosed by professionals who specialize in serving distinct populations (Ridgely, Goldman and Willenbring, 1990). Addiction professionals may believe that mental illness is a symptom or manifestation of substance abuse; mental health professionals may believe that substance abuse is a symptom of mental illness. Neither group is therefore likely to provide effective treatment for multiply diagnosed patients in their usual treatment setting.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe an integrated treatment model that the author has developed, and that has been applied successfully to the treatment of mental illness, chemical abuse and addiction (MICAA) throughout New York State, and in other states across the country. The first step in describing this model is to clarify diagnostic terminology. Next, we will identify the limitations of traditional substance abuse and mental health treatment approaches, followed by an in-depth discussion of the MICAA treatment model itself.

Diagnostic Terminology

Diagnostic clarity is the first step in planning successful treatment. To address the problem of multiple diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse, clinicians from either addiction of psychiatric backgrounds must learn to make the diagnosis for each disorder using the clear diagnostic criteria outlined in DSM-III-R (American Psychiatric Associations, 1987). In addition, each service system must expand its resources to provide protocols for the assessment and diagnosis of the multiple disorders regularly encountered. Interactive effects of multiple disorders must be explored on an individual basis, and consideration of which disorder came first, while perhaps etiologically important, should not deter the diagnosis and treatment of persistent conditions that are evident simultaneously in the present.

The term dual diagnosis is ambiguous (for example; mental illness and mental retardation are dual diagnoses). The term mentally ill chemical abusers or MICA was introduced by the New York State Commission of Quality of Care for the Mentally Disabled (1986) and has since had an additional "A" added for and Addicted: hence, MICAA. The commission's report made it clear that the term denoted individuals with severe, persistent mental illness, accompanied by chemical abuse and/or addiction.

The following list sums up characteristics of MICAA:

  1. Severe mental illness exists independently of substance abuse; persons would meet the diagnostic criteria of a major mental illness even if there were not a substance abuse problem present.
  2. MICAA persons have a DSM-III-R, Axis I (American Psychiatric Association, 1987) diagnosis of a major psychiatric disorder, such as schizophrenia or major affective disorder.
  3. MICAA persons usually require medication to control their psychiatric illness; if medication is stopped, specific symptoms are likely to emerge or worsen.
  4. Substance abuse may exacerbate acute psychiatric symptoms, but these symptoms generally persist beyond the withdrawal of the precipitating substance.
  5. MICAA persons, even when in remission, frequently display the residual effects of major psychiatric disorders (for example, schizophrenia), such as marked social isolation or withdrawal, blunted or inappropriate affect, and marked lack of initiative, interest, or energy. Evidence of these residual effects often differentiates MICAA from populations of substance abusers who are not severely mentally ill.

To differentiate persons who have severe alcohol and/or drug addiction with associated symptoms of mental illness, but who are not severely mentally ill, the term chemical abusing mentally ill or CAMI has emerged. These persons can be described as follows:

  1. CAMI patients have severe substance dependence (alcoholism; heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, or other addictions), and frequently have multiple substance abuse and/or polysubstance abuse or addiction.
  2. CAMI persons usually require treatment in alcohol or drug treatment programs.
  3. CAMI persons often have coexistent personality or character disorders (DSM-III-R Axis II) (Solomon, 1982).
  4. CAMI patients may appear in the mental health system due to "toxic" or "substance-induced" acute psychotic symptoms that resemble the acute symptoms of a major psychiatric disorder. In this instance, the acute symptoms are always precipitated by substance abuse, and the patient does not have a primary Axis I major psychiatric disorder.
  5. CAMI patients' acute symptoms remit completely after a period of abstinence or detoxification. This period is usually a few days or weeks, but occasionally may require months.
  6. CAMI patients do not exhibit the residual effects of a major mental illness when acute symptoms are in remission.

The program described in this chapter is designed specifically for MICAA patients, not for CAMI patients. This is not to say that CAMI patients do not present the same problems of diagnosis and treatment as do MICAA patients. In fact, CAMI patients may sometimes be more problematic because of the manipulative aspects of their coexisting character pathology.

Nonetheless, once CAMI patients are identified, it is often best that they be referred back to the addiction treatment system. It may be detrimental and regressive for those addicts who are not mentally ill to get caught up in some aspects of the mental health system.

Traditional Treatment Approaches

Now, let us describe characteristics of "traditional" treatment within each system.

Traditional Addiction (Substance Dependence) Treatment Approaches. This treatment can be characterized as follows:

  1. Criteria for admission to alcohol and drug treatment programs traditionally emphasize willingness and motivation. The person who is "seeking" services must be aware of the problems substance abuse has caused and must be "ready" and "motivated" to engage in treatment, agreeable to participating in the treatment process as outline, willing to accept the consequences of faulty participation, and agreeable to abstinence from all substances. MICAA patients often cannot meet those admission criteria. In addition, many MICAA patients who are motivated are excluded because some programs do not admit persons who are taking prescribed medications.
  2. Alcohol and drug detoxification programs, by nature, are exceptions. These programs accept active (often unmotivated) users, usually hospitalize them from three to seven days, and provide medication to alleviate withdrawal. Completion of detoxification is frequently a criteria for admission to other forms of treatment. Unfortunately, MICAA patients may also be specifically excluded from many traditional detoxification programs, due to the lack of adequate staffing and staff training.
  3. Traditional programs for alcoholism and drug addiction treatment are often intense and highly confrontational. Clients are confronted by professionals and peers in an effort to break down denial regarding the adverse effects of substance abuse, and the degree of the severity of the addiction. Confrontation is also employed in individual and group sessions to address maladaptive behaviors and character pathology. Some program models conduct marathons as an additional means of breaking down defenses. But many experts denounce the use of confrontation with MICAA clients, deeming it anti-therapeutic and unnecessary (Sciacca, 1987b).
  4. Finally, traditional addiction treatment emphasizes the concept of "hitting bottom" as a necessary prerequisite to sobriety (that is, patients must experience severe losses or deterioration in order to perceive that they need help for addiction). For MICAA patients, however, "hitting bottom" can mean decompensation into severe psychosis and regression in all areas of functioning. This is not recommended. Sciacca (1987b) has advocated that MICAA clients be maintained at a stable level, and that progress in substance abuse treatment should proceed from that level.

Traditional Mental Health Treatment Approaches for the Severely Mentally Ill. These are the standard procedures for treating this group:

  1. Criteria for admission to mental programs emphasize that the client is suffering from a major mental illness. Clients who manifest overt substance disorders may be excluded from treatment on the assumption that the substance disorder is "primary". Many clients may therefore conceal their use of substances for fear of rejection from treatment (Sciacca, 1987b). Clients are generally not "seeking" treatment for substance abuse problems.
  2. Mental health treatment programs accept clients who are unmotivated. Many clients are unmotivated to receive treatment for mental illness, but are cajoled into participating. For MICAA patients, denial and lack of motivation regarding substance abuse are quite common. Consequently, MICAA patients in denial of substance abuse are frequently admitted to traditional mental health programs, but then find there are no programs that address that denial, or that address substance abuse at all.
  3. Mental health programs are supportive, not confron-tational. Interventions focus on helping clients to maintain fragile defensive structures. Although this approach is helpful for mental illness, such programs are often so nonconfrontational that substance abuse is never addressed at all, and clients are effectively enabled to continue in a self-destructive course.
  4. Mental health treatment programs are often not accepting of the problem of substance abuse. Clinicians, not well trained in dealing with MICAA patients, may be judgmental and critical, and fail to recognize alcoholism and drug addiction as physiological diseases. Clients may not feel comfortable discussing their substance abuse in such a setting, just as they are not likely to feel accepted discussing their mental illness in traditional substance abuse programs.

The MICAA Treatment Program: Overview

In the MICAA treatment model first developed by Sciacca in 1984 (Sciacca, 1987b), programming is based on the nonjudgmental acceptance of all symptoms and experiences related to both mental illness and substance abuse. Patients are engaged in supportive peer groups that encourage candid discussion of all illness-related experiences to foster group identification and cohesion.

MICAA treatment groups are implemented as a component of existing mental health treatment, or as a part of an integrated program exclusively for MICAA. MICAA groups have been developed in a wide range of treatment programs, including short and long-term inpatient hospitals, admission units, community residences, shelters, day treatment programs, continuing care programs, case management services, and outpatient clinics (Sciacca, 1987a). The format is as follows. Selected patients receive mental health treatment as usual, and attend MICAA groups, once or twice per week in lieu of other program activities. Group sessions last from forty five to ninety minutes; the recommended group size is eight. In more acute inpatient settings, groups may meet more frequently and focus on shorter goals (such as stabilization of acute symptoms and setting up ongoing substance abuse services after discharge; and assisting clients to recognize substance abuse as a possible precipitating factor in their psychosis).

The MICAA treatment process begins by engaging the client to relate to the area of substance abuse, using interventions that precede traditional substance abuse treatment readiness. Interventions include a nonconfrontational approach to denial (Sciacca, 1987b) that assists clients through the process of attaining traditional readiness by emphasizing engagement through education rather than confrontation and consequences. For clients in high denial, imposing consequences for substance use is not only irrelevant, it may serve to disengage clients from treatment altogether. Before beginning MICAA treatment, however, rules regarding substance abuse should be established by the mental health program to ensure a safe environment. Unsafe or potentially disruptive conditions, such as behavior that is aggressive, violent, or dangerous to self or others, whether or not due to intoxication, cannot be tolerated in any component of the client's treatment. Similarly, selling drugs is a criminal offense and also cannot be tolerated. Further, actively intoxicated clients are not included in MICAA groups or other areas of treatment and may be referred for crisis intervention, detoxification, or psychiatric hospitalization. Once procedures to address such crises are in place, and safety is assured, a more leisurely process of engagement can occur.

Let us consider the MICAA treatment process by looking at a client in extreme denial, who denies substance use and is averse to participating in substance abuse services. The MICAA group leader provides the following sequential approach.

Phase I: Client in denial

Step 1: Initial Contact Occurs. In any treatment setting, clients may be identified for referral to a MICAA group program either during the intake process or during ongoing treatment. In either case, the primary clinician or case manager informs the client that there is a special program, and that an appointment can be set up for the client to meet with the leader of that program to learn more about it. If the client is willing, contact with the MICAA group leader is arranged, either formally or informally. The MICAA group leader, once in contact with the client, conducts the pregroup interview to engage the client and prepare him or her for attending the MICAA program. Note that the primary clinician does not prepare the client for MICAA group attendance; this is done by the trained group leader.

If the client refuses the initial contact with the MICAA group leader, the referring/primary clinician is advised to continue to educate and engage the client through statements of concern, such as, "I am concerned that if you were to drink alcohol with your medication, you may become too rapidly intoxicated." Statements of concern that relate directly to the client's own experience may eventually gain credence, and may assist the client to get beyond the extremely resistive state. This approach may proceed as long as necessary (at times, for many months) to engage the client in agreeing to make the initial contact with the MICAA program.

Step 2: The Pregroup Interview Is Held. The MICAA leader begins the pregroup interview by informing the client that there is a special program that addresses both mental health symptoms and the use of alcohol and drugs, and that such a service has been useful to many clients in the mental health system. The client may respond with outright denial of his or her need for such a program, giving reasons such as "I don't use substances" or "I have no problem with substance abuse." The MICAA leader may respond in a nonthreatening way by stating, "There were indications in your history that you might have a problem with substance use, but if you don't agree that's okay. Meanwhile, why don't I tell you about this program to see if there is any aspect of it that may be of value to you, or any contribution you may be able to make to the program." Maintaining an atmosphere of collaboration is an essential strategy throughout the interview. The immediate objective is to sustain the interview long enough to explain the four components of the MICAA group process.

The first component is the supportive nature of the group process. Clients in denial are asked: "Even though you don't see substance abuse as a problem for yourself, do you think you could be supportive of the other group members who are seeking help for their substance abuse?" The MICAA group leader accepts the denial state, while at the same time setting the tone for a supportive group process. Most clients respond affirmatively to the question, and their ability to contribute is inherent in that response. Clients are informed that abstinence is not required, and that they will encounter various stages of readiness in other group members: "In our group there are persons like yourself who don't think they have a substance abuse problem; there are also persons who think they may have a problem and want to abstain, but are not yet able to do so; and there are persons who know they have a problem and who are successfully abstaining." This information prepares clients to accept the varying readiness levels in others, and helps to eliminate discussion regarding comparisons with other clients.

The second component is the educational aspect of the process. The MICAA leader attempts to establish a reason for the person in denial to participate by asking, "In this group we learn a lot about alcohol and drugs. Do you have any interest in learning about this?" Clients who have denied any involvement with substances may at this point in the interview-when it is clear that we are not going to break down their denial-comfortably express interest in receiving education. Interest in education is an acceptable purpose for the client's participation, and is clearly acknowledged as such by the MICAA group leader.

Specific education on both mental illness and substance abuse is an essential part of the treatment process. Areas covered include: mixing medication with substances; the symptoms and syndromes specific to each disorder; the forms of treatment utilized for each disorder; the physiological disease concepts for each disorder in contrast to moral judgement and stigma; and the process of rehabilitation and recovery for each disorder, in contrast to chronic hopelessness and despair. The third aspect of the interview informs the client that outside speakers (such as members of AA and NA, physicians, case managers and so on) are invited to discuss various topics. Some clients find it attractive that the self-help group speakers will be invited to speak to them in the mental health setting, particularly if they have been resistant to, yet curious about, Twelve Step programs. This part of the interview sets the tone for an open group process that includes others besides the leaders and the group members.

The fourth component of the process is the creation of an atmosphere of receptivity to learning. Clients are asked if they believe they will be able to view the educational materials and the experiences of others in an open-minded way, and to consider that they may learn something new in the process.

The pregroup interview is regarded as the beginning of the treatment process. At the completion of the interview, clients will be engaged to attend the group or not. If not, a time will be set up to meet with the clients again, and an offer to allow the client to attend one session may be made. For clients who are not comfortable in groups, the leader may also offer to assist the client in adjusting by setting up additional individual meetings.

For those clients who do agree to attend, the pregroup interview is designed to establish a purpose for each client's participation (such as helping others, interest in education, hearing speakers, and so on). For the client in denial, this tends to eliminate the client's experience of "not knowing" what he or she is doing in a substance abuse group.

The interview is also designed to identify positive aspects of the person's eventual participation. All experiences the client may convey regarding his or her knowledge of substance abuse are highlighted by the leader as potential contributions: "Since you say you once lived with someone who was a substance abuser, sharing your experience with others may be very helpful to them."

In summary, the pregroup interview serves as a valuable tool to shape the group process into one that is meaningful and therapeutic, by encouraging peer support, growth and change, and sharing of knowledge and experiences in a nonthreatening environment, before the client even enters the group. It also serves as a guide for the leader to assess aspects of the process with which clients may have difficulty. Clients who make nonsupportive statements, for example, are taught how to participate more appropriately, and may even be re-interviewed in order to be helped to identify more effective responses while attending groups.

Step 3: The Client Begins to Attend the MICAA Group. In the early stages of group participation, when clients are still in high denial, educational materials are provided regarding numerous aspects of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and mental illness. The objective is to get clients simply to "talk about" alcohol and drugs. During this early phase of the process, the use of written materials, guest speakers, videos, and films allows clients to participate in discussions of important topic areas in an impersonal, nonthreatening way. Educational materials are presented in a way that is specifically designed to elicit the opinions and knowledge of group members. For example, rather than directly teaching clients that marijuana may cause panic attacks, the MICAA leader asks clients what they think about such statements in the educational materials presented; then clients in denial may safely talk about "others they know" who have had a marijuana-induced panic attack. Such discussion usually results in the group validating or coming to the consensus that the information is accurate; the leader then concretizes the fact that a consensus has been reached. This process fosters the integration of didactic information with personal experience, and encourages a learning experience that is internalized rather than memorized.

Step 4: Group Discussion of Substance Abuse Is Fostered The client now talking generally about alcohol and drugs in the group setting. The most important focus during this phase is building necessary trust to assure clients that it is safe for them to begin to discuss their own use of substances openly in the group. Trust is developed by the leader through conveying a realistic understanding of substance abuse, substance dependence, and the recovery process, and through taking every opportunity to dispel the "moral" model of the willful substance abuser who is bad and socially deviant. Educational materials and information address adverse effects of substance abuse, as well as treatment available. Through encouraging open discussion, the leader learns how each individual perceives substance abuse, and provides positive reinforcement when clients talk about their own use. Thus, candid statements about continuing use are commended, and leaders indicate that the value of the group process depends on discussion of what is really happening for people, not what they think others would like to hear. AA and NA speakers are asked to tell their stories when they are invited to speak to the groups, thus further providing the group with a model of self-disclosure without shame or denial. MICAA clients may identify with an AA speaker in one session and then go back to denying substance use in the next session. The object, however, is not to catch clients in lies, or to corner them into admissions. Rather, the process of denial is allowed to unfold at a pace that is comfortable for the client. Consequently, clients remain at this level for weeks or several months before moving on to phase II.

Phase II: The Unfolding of Denial

Step 5: The Client Begins to Talk About His or Her own Use of Substances. Talking about one's own use is not synonymous with experiencing substance abuse as problematic. Clients may initially discuss the positive experiences they have had when using substances, such as euphoria, relaxation, or symptom reduction. The leader does not argue directly with a client's subjective positive experience, but instead, gently explores the possibility that adverse experiences may be present as well by inquiring about how the client felt as the substance was wearing off, and whether symptoms of mental illness were exacerbated at any point. The leader may also inquire about the specific effects of various substances, for example, by asking a cocaine abuser if he or she lacked energy or felt depressed in "coming down" off the drug. In addition, such inquiries provide the leader with information on the client's specific patterns of use and reasons for continuing to use. Common reasons for use include "self-medicating" psychotic symptoms, alleviating boredom, anxiety, or depression, and facilitating socialization. Other members of the group are encouraged to share their own positive and negative experiences with using substances for these reasons.

Once the client can admit-in the group-to using substances (though not necessarily to abusing substances), a thorough assessment is performed by the leader in a private interview. This assessment provides more information about the client's current substance use and substance use history, which in turn can be used by the leader to facilitate further openness in the group process.

Step 6: The Client Recognizes That Substance Abuse is a Problem (Though He or She May Still Be Actively Using Substances). If we recall that our starting point was the person who denied any use of substances at all, we can see that important progress has been made. Each increment of participation, understanding, learning, and insight is a necessary part of the process. Progress is based on these factors and on the reduction of denial, not on the reduction of substance use or abstinence, unless that has occurred.

At this point the client usually has identified the adverse effects of one substance that disrupts his or her life the most. Through candid discussion and more open reporting of the negative consequences, the client can receive increasing feedback from other group members and the leader that helps him or her to recognize this substance use is problematic. Once this occurs, the client can be engaged in further discussion-in the group-of how he or she plans to address the problem.

Step 7: The Client Becomes Motivated to Abstain. The client's decision to share a wish to become abstinent is based on the existence of a trusting alliance with the leader and other group members who are enlisted to assist with this goal. The client usually begins to approach abstinence by trying to cut down or eliminate the use of the most disruptive substance he or she is using. Exploration takes place in the group regarding patterns of use of that particular drug, the possibility of physical addiction and/or need for detoxification, the skills and strengths that the client needs to employ to attain abstinence, the triggers that may evoke use of the substance, and other areas in which the client needs to change in order to attain abstinence. The client is assisted to recognize the necessary treatment interventions and supports that will promote abstinence, and is now amenable to receiving specific recommendations and suggestions from the leader and the group. In a sense, the client is now in treatment for the first time, and is strongly commended for acknowledging his or her substance abuse problem, expressing motivation to change, and having the willingness to accept help. These are labeled as strengths and positive attributes.

Phase III: Movement Toward Abstinence

In this phase, the client's level of readiness to work on abstinence is at the level required by traditional substance abuse programs. However, the client may not be at this level of readiness for all substances abused.

Step 8: Active Treatment to Promote Abstinence Is Employed

In the group, interventions such as contracting for abstinence are employed. A client may be asked to go one day without the substance and report back to the group. Clients who have had the "illusion of control" may now realize for the first time that they are not in control of the use of the substance, due to the difficulty or inability they experienced in carrying out the contract. This may be frightening, but by now the MICAA group has become a secure, supportive environment for the denial to break down safely. Clients may now begin to realize the need for additional support to gain control of the substance use, and may begin to attend AA, NA, or other supportive adjunctive programs. As they gain control over the substances, the group explores the skills and strengths they are employing to do so. In the event of a relapse, the group will assist the client to call on these strengths, skills, and strategies in order to regain control.

Once some stability is attained, rehabilitation and recovery begin. The client is helped to recognize the positive effects of abstinence, such as more positive self-esteem, fewer crises, reduction of adverse effects, more energy, improved relationships, and so on. Clients begin to learn how to cope with issues in their lives without the use of substances, and to develop new techniques for dealing with feelings and promoting socialization.

Relapses and relapse prevention, including early recognition of relapse signs, are important topics for education during this later phase; educational materials from earlier phases can be repeated very effectively at this time.

Note that most clients abuse more than one substance. However, a client's success at gaining control over the most disruptive substance may not readily translate into the recognition that all substances are problematic. The recognition of addiction to one substance may lead clients to consider that they are addicted to other substances (including nicotine and caffeine), but further work in the group is necessary, exploring the adverse effects of each substance, before a commitment to attempt total abstinence will occur.

Step 9. Total Abstinence Is the Goal.

Total abstinence from all substances is the goal of treatment of all MICAA clients, and working toward this goal proceeds for as long as necessary (often for years). Time-limited programs must therefore make provisions for continuity of the MICAA process after the program is completed.

In order to maintain abstinence, clients are taught to utilize available adjunctive support networks. Traditional twelve-step recovery programs (A.A., N.A., C.A.) are recommended, but not required. Interested clients are to utilize these programs in ways that are most comfortable and useful for them as individuals. This process takes place within MICAA groups, where clients who attend Twelve-Step programs discuss both successful and unsuccessful experiences. In addition to attending recovery programs, clients work on developing other substance-free social networks and activities; participation in social clubs, community activities, and additional therapy is encouraged.

MICAA Support Programs

Self-led, self-help support programs specifically for MICAA clients are very effective adjuncts to more generic support programs in helping MICAA clients maintain abstinence. Such groups have begun to emerge in scattered locations throughout the country, both within the traditional AA network ("Double Trouble" meetings) and within the traditional mental health system.

"Helpful People in Touch", a Consumer Program for MICAA. Sciacca (1990) has developed a specific format for developing an MICAA support program, and for training recovering MICAA patients to become peer group leaders. This program, called "Helpful People in Touch," has attracted and engaged MICAA consumers who are not amenable to participating in traditional mental health or addiction treatment models. In this program, the role of the peer group leader includes structuring participation of all members in discussions and decision making, and ensuring completion of group tasks such as shopping for refreshments, preparing coffee, collecting dues, taking minutes, and so on. Near the close of each meeting, the members decide the format and content of the next meeting. This may include selecting reading materials, films, or videos; choosing a topic for discussion; or simply deciding to have an open discussion. Meetings take place in the evenings, usually once every other week, and last for about ninety minutes. Meetings are monitored, but not led, by a professional who remains on the premises and is available to assist participants with requests for materials, or to handle difficult situations such as attendance by intoxicated individuals. MICAA-NON, a Program for Families and Friends of MICAA. Families and friends of MICAA clients are vital supports who suffer along with these clients, yet very often lack knowledge and understanding regarding multiple disorders. Traditional AMI programs are extremely helpful regarding mental illness, but frequently do not address the complexity of living with MICAA patients. Alanon programs are sometimes helpful, but often fail to address the severity and complexity of patients with coexisting mental illness.

In order to provide these families with a support program specific to their needs, the MICAA-NON program (Sciacca, 1989b) has been developed to help families help themselves by focusing on their own needs, rather than being totally involved with the needs of their MICAA relatives. Families of MICAA clients frequently deny or hide their relative's substance abuse due to feelings of guilt or shame. In MICAA-NON meetings, families learn that just as they did not cause their relative's mental illness, they also did not cause his or her substance disorder. As a result, they can more openly discuss their painful experiences, as well as advocate more effectively for improved and more comprehensive services.

A great deal of education and outreach is necessary to initially (and continually) bring MICAA families together. MICAA-NON groups are led by professionals. Groups are usually started by agencies who have MICAA treatment programs, and led by staff from these programs. Participation is never limited to families of MICAA persons affiliated with the agency; once a group has begun, it is open to all families in the community. The local AMI chapters are notified of such meetings, and families who attend MICAA-NON but are not AMI members are encouraged to join that support network as well. MICAA-NON groups are held in the evenings, usually every other week or once a month. Meetings last for about ninety minutes, and content usually includes education and support. MICAA-NON leaders find that their work with MICAA clients is greatly enhanced by their acquired understanding of family issues, while participating families become better able to understand and help their MICAA relatives through increased empathy and detachment.

Implementing MICAA Treatment and MICAA Support Programs

The integrated MICAA group treatment program just described, along with the ancillary support programs ("Helpful People in Touch" and MICAA-NON) can be readily implemented in traditional mental health programs, as a component of existing services, through the following process.

Administrative Support. Obtaining clear, unqualified administrative support is an essential first step in implementing MICAA groups in a treatment program. Program leadership can demonstrate such support to staff by distributing information about the planned MICAA groups with an accompanying message of unequivocal commitment to the MICAA program.

Screening. MICAA clients presently in attendance at the program are identified either by existing knowledge of their substance abuse, or by the administration of a brief screening instrument. (The author uses a modified CAGE questionnaire; see Mayfield, McCleod, and Hall, 1974.) All clients admitted into the treatment program are administered the CAGE questionnaire at intake to ensure that all potential MICAA referrals are identified, and to determine the number of individuals requiring MICAA services and the number of groups and group leaders required.

Staff Development. First, sensitization of all staff and clients (MICAA or not) about the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction is done prior to the development of specific MICAA programming. This ensures broad familiarity with the basic concepts of MICAA treatment and helps the staff and clients as a whole to understand and accept the new program. Second, recruitment of program staff as MICAA group leaders begins by identifying those staff who express a strong interest in providing MICAA services. Finally, group leader education takes place as an in-service process (if most of the staff work for a single institution) or as an interagency group (where staff members from numerous agencies are participating). As mental health professionals, the group leaders are not expected to be substance abuse experts, but rather substance abuse "liaisons." As a "liaison", a group leader may comfortable tell a client that he or she does not know the answer to a particular question, and provide the answer at a later time. Liaisons are taught to use an exploratory approach when providing MICAA treatment, and to feel comfortable joining in the group learning process. Education proceeds by building on the knowledge and skills inherent in the liaison's ability to treat mental illness. The disease and recovery concepts of alcoholism and drug addiction parallel those of mental illness. Four essential parallels that guide treatment are: (1) Each disorder has active symptoms. (2) In each disorder, symptoms can be brought into remission. (3) In each disorder, bringing symptoms into remission is not a cure, because each illness is a potentially relapsing disease. (4) Treatment focuses on bringing symptoms into remission, and then developing strategies for preventing relapse. Having realistic expectations regarding change and recovery reduces staff burnout and frustration. Moral and judgmental beliefs about substance abuse are dispelled, and liaisons are taught to dispel these beliefs in others.

Education content includes (but is not limited to) information about substance disorders, individual substances, available substance abuse treatment programs, interactive effects of multiple disorders, interactions of prescribed medications with illicit substances, and principles of providing MICAA treatment individually and in groups.

Liaisons are specifically taught the skills necessary to provide the treatment process outlined in this chapter. This entails: conducting pregroup interviews, administering assessments, developing treatment plans for multiple disorders, developing group leadership skills, providing appropriate interventions at each stage of the process, collaborating with adjunct services such as drug/alcohol detoxification programs, collaborating with other mental health professionals who may be serving group members, reporting/recording progress relevant to the group process and individual progress, and so on. Some liaisons learn to conduct MICAA-NON groups; others learn to monitor "Helpful People in Touch" consumer self-help groups.

As part of their participation in MICAA group leadership meetings, liaison staff review pertinent literature and provide educational materials to their co-workers. In effect, liaison staff become substance abuse resources to the team or agency they work with.


The MICAA treatment programs described in this chapter have been implemented within numerous service settings across the country, and have been demonstrated to be successful and cost effective, generally requiring no more than four hours per week of staff time devoted to MICAA services and education (Sciacca, 1987a). Many MICAA clients who have attended these programs have attained long-term abstinence (more than one, two, or three years), and others have been maintained in the community at a functional level that far surpasses their previous frequent recidivism due to increased control of their substance abuse. Agencies that implement these programs quickly become more comprehensive in their provision of services for multiply disordered clients, and do not have to search fruitlessly for solutions to the "MICAA problem." Clearly, controlled research further testing the usefulness of this program model is needed. The author is currently in the process of developing a research study to accomplish this goal.

Kathleen Sciacca, M.A., is the founding executive director of Sciacca Comprehensive Service Development for Mental Illness, Drug Addiction, and Alcoholism (MIDAA) in New York City and is a mental health program specialist for the New York State Office of Mental Health. She is a nationally known consultant, program developer, lecturer, and seminar leader.


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Copyright ©1996 Kathleen Sciacca