Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Addiction Treatment

dual-diagnosis-treatmentWhat is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe the co-occurrence of a substance abuse disorder and a mental health issue. In the past, many people struggling with dual diagnosis received separate treatments for each issue, rather than receiving integrated treatment that takes both issues into account simultaneously. However, for treatment to be successful, it is vital that both disorders are treated at the same time.

In some cases, people struggling with addiction may have been denied treatment for the mental health issues until they had completed substance abuse rehab. Nowadays, research has revealed that treating mental health and addiction as separate entities is largely unsuccessful. When considering treatment for a co-occurring mental health problem and drug or alcohol dependence, seek out a treatment facility with specialized dual diagnosis treatment.

Mental Health Disorders and Addiction

It is often difficult to determine whether the mental illness or the substance abuse problem has occurred first, but it is absolutely necessary. Determining the root cause of the dual diagnosis is one of the most important aspects to treatment. In some cases, the underlying mental illness may have led to problematic drug or alcohol abuse in an effort to cope with the symptoms of the illness. In others, a spiraling problem with substance abuse may have triggered symptoms of mental illness.

There are also the differing interactions of various drugs with the type of mental health issue taken into account. People struggling with symptoms of depression may turn to alcohol to moderate mood. However, others may only experience depressive symptoms when abusing the substance.

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What are Commonly Linked Co-Occurring Disorders?depressed-man

There are some mental health disorders that may be more commonly linked with substance abuse and addiction. These include:

Depression: Substance abuse is commonly linked to depression, as many people will turn to drug or alcohol in an effort to moderate negative moods or feelings of hopelessness. However, alcohol and opiate drugs are central nervous system depressants that can make depression symptoms worsen. The continuous use of drugs or alcohol to try and improve mood, but experiencing worsening symptoms as a result, could easily create a spiral down into addiction.

Anxiety: According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) approximately 20% of people struggling with an anxiety disorder also have a co-existing substance abuse disorder. Drugs or alcohol are often used in an effort to escape from symptoms of anxiety, but the substances are likely to make symptoms worse.

OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a severe type of anxiety that causes a person to feel irrational fears and overwhelming anxiety. Many people will reach for drugs or alcohol as a way to try and cope with such overwhelming feelings and emotions. Unfortunately, addictive substances can often make symptoms of OCD worse, creating a vicious cycle.

PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental health condition characterized by feelings of overwhelming anxiety, painful emotions and intense feelings, often brought on by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. In an effort to escape from painful feelings or to numb emotions, the person may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder is a serious condition characterized by extreme shifts in mood and behavior. Statistics show that approximately 46% of people with bipolar disorder also had a co-existing alcohol addiction, while 41% had a drug abuse or addiction disorder

Eating disorders: Those struggling with eating disorders are more likely to have problems with their self-esteem and poor body image, which can lead to self-destructive behaviors. Stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or crystal methamphetamine are often used to promote weight loss, while others may turn to alcohol and opiate drugs as a way to cope with these painful emotions.

What is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

In order to effectively treat dual diagnosis, it is important that both conditions are treated simultaneously. A specialized treatment program will include administering prescription medications, along with individual counseling sessions and behavioral therapies that treat both conditions. Integrating treatment for the mental illness into an addiction treatment program increases the success rate for recovery. It also helps to reduce the risk of relapse after rehab treatment is completed.

For anyone who is suffering from long-term substance dependence, inpatient medical detox is usually required. This treatment protocol slowly weans the individual off of the addictive substance in a safe and comfortable environment. While being supervised by medical professionals, patients will be able to avoid any emergency medical situations associated with symptoms of withdrawal. Board-certified doctors can also prescribe the appropriate medications to mitigate these withdrawal symptoms, if necessary.

After a careful evaluations of the person’s current metal state, medications may be prescribed in order to address the mental illness. A comprehensive treatment plan, including a pharmacological addiction treatment regimen will be set in place.

Psychotherapy in the form of individual and group rehab therapy is provided in order to help patients address both their addiction and their mental illness. Through therapy, patients will get to the root cause of their addiction, learn new coping mechanisms, and learn how to more effectively deal with their psychological issues and mood disorders without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Holistic and alternative treatment therapies can be used to treat a dual diagnosis. These can include yoga, art therapy, acupuncture, biofeedback, and more.

Relapse prevention training will teach individuals how to recognize their triggers as well as techniques about how to avoid temptations or risky situations that could potentiality lead to substance abuse.

Addiction aftercare programs will help with the transition back to everyday life. Often, rehab patients feel best if they transition to a sober living community where they will receive the structure and support they need before going back home. Aftercare programs are designed to provide the recovering addict with the tools, resources, and support networks needed to maintain sobriety and manage the symptoms of the mental illness.  Support group meetings, specifically for people with a dual diagnosis, are also extremely helpful for developing social networks and reducing feelings of isolation during recovery.


  1. Onimette, P., PhD. (n.d.). Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders [PDF]. Washington State University Spokane The Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research & Training.
  2. Substance Use Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/substance-abuse
  3. Hirschfeld, M. R., & Vornik, M. A. (2005, June 15). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from http://www.ajmc.com/journals/supplement/2005/2005-06-vol11-n3suppl/jun05-2074ps85-s90

Last updated on July 6th, 2017 at 03:06 pm

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