dual diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a term that is being used everywhere now, but do you really know what it means? When someone has a mental illness and a substance abuse problem at the same time, a dual diagnosis is given. A dual diagnosis has a very wide range. The mental illness side can range from mild depression and all the way to schizophrenia. Abusing substances can also make your mental illness worse. For example, abusing cocaine will progressively make your bipolar disorder worse. On the other side, you may develop depression from drinking alcohol too much.

There is no set way dual diagnosis works, substance abuse, and mental illnesses develop in no particular order. Someone with a mental health issue may turn to drugs to self-medicate or to improve their symptoms. Studies have also shown that abusing drugs or alcohol make what could be a minor mental health issue into something much more extreme. Abusing substances have a huge impact on a person’s thoughts, moods, and brain chemistry, which directly affects their behavior.

Is Dual Diagnosis Rare or Common?

Dual diagnosis is very common, but the problem in the world of addiction is that it can go undetected. Since mental illness and substance abuse symptoms can almost mirror each other, it can be difficult for people to see the difference between them. This leads to people only getting treated for their substance abuse and not their mental health problems. The problem is that if you treat one and not the other, relapses can occur or the patient may struggle to get through the treatment program. People with lower incomes, veterans, and people that suffer from more medical illnesses have a higher rate of developing a co-occurring disorder.


The key factor of dual diagnosis is that the mental illness and substance abuse disorder are occurring at the same time. Remember, there is a wide range of symptoms included for this category. Some symptoms of substance abuse are:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family, maybe even hanging around with new people
  • No longer having an interest in activities you once loved
  • A sudden change in their behavior
  • Using substances in high-risk situations
  • Developing risky behaviors
  • Inability to control the use of substances
  • Committing risky activities to maintain your habit
  • Developing a tolerance to the substance and withdrawal symptoms when not receiving enough
  • Cannot function without the substance or feeling like you cannot

Mental health facilities use standard screening tests to identify people that may be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse. These tests help to determine if their symptoms are strictly mental health related or if a dual diagnosis is needed.

Symptoms of mental health issues are wide in range. A list of mental health issues and their symptoms can be found at PsychCentral.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

How is Dual Diagnosis Treated?

The most common method of treatment for dual diagnosis today is treating the specific mental illness and substance abuse at the same time. As they go hand in hand, so should the treatment process. Treatment will not be the same for each person. A personalized treatment plan will be administered to each patient, to ensure their progress and issues are marked according to the individual, instead of an average outcome number.


The first step in treating dual diagnosis and even substance abuse is completing a detox. During this inpatient detoxification, the patient is monitored by a medical staff as the patient clears the substance from their body. The staff may wean the patient off the substance to avoid extreme withdrawal symptoms. Inpatient detoxification is generally preferred to outpatient because withdrawal can be so severe or even cause a person to relapse.

Inpatient Rehabilitation

Inpatient rehabilitation is recommended for individuals suffering from dual diagnosis. They will receive intensive medical and mental health care 24/7, in a sober environment. Group therapy, one on one therapy sessions, support groups, medication, and health services are provided with the objective of treating their addiction and any underlying issues. Sober housing is also available after the inpatient process, for individuals that need further transition back into everyday life.


Medication is provided and monitored for treating mental illnesses, both at the treatment center and after they leave. Medications play a huge role in addressing the mental health issues that are affecting the patient. Getting the mental health issues under control with medication is sometimes necessary in order to address other issues. Then depending on the doctor’s recommendations, they can be taken off all medications or maintained to a responsible level, that the doctor will monitor.


Psychotherapy is a huge factor in an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. Educating someone about their illness and how their behaviors influence their thoughts and vice versa will improve their symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse. Being aware and conscious of you and your surroundings gives you a better perspective on the situation you are in. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective in helping people with dual diagnosis. They will learn how to cope with stressful triggers and situations and change their abusive patterns of thinking.


Dealing with dual diagnosis can feel challenging and make you feel isolated. Joining a support group will allow you to share frustrations, successes, and resources. You will also form bonds and provide encouragement to each other on a daily basis. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or may be unsure if dual diagnosis treatment is the right method, call us today at 888-374-3252. USA Addiction will get you the help you need.