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5 Things To Know About Dual Diagnosis

5 Things To Know About Dual Diagnosis

  5 Things To Know About Dual Diagnosis About half of the people with substance use disorder will also have a mental health disorder during their lives.  Substance use and mental health disorders can interact and lead to worsening of one, the other, or both conditions. Sometimes clinicians refer to dual diagnosis as co-occurring disorders or comorbidity.  Unfortunately there’s a lot of misinformation about dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is complex, and people with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders can’t receive a simple fix to change overnight.  Here are five things you need to know about dual diagnosis:  

  1. One Disorder Doesn’t Automatically Cause Another

Research is ongoing into the relationships between substance use and mental health disorders, and why they can often co-occur.  Although some people believe that one disorder leads to another (substance use disorder leads to depression, for example), there aren’t any clear scientific answers about cause-and-effect with dual diagnosis. However, experts have identified three potential reasons why mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur:

  • common risk factors, including stress, trauma, and family background
  • mental health problems may lead to substance use to alleviate symptoms, which is sometimes called “self-medication.”
  • substance use disorders change the way the brain works, potentially leading to mental health issues


  1. Symptoms Of Each Condition Are Similar

There are many unique, individual circumstances when substance use and mental health disorders co-occur and warrant a dual diagnosis.  Some of the warning signs that a mental health disorder could be present along with a substance use disorder include:

  • extreme mood changes
  • confused thinking or problems with concentration
  • avoiding friends and previously enjoyed activities
  • thoughts or statements of self-harm

People previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder who could be at risk of alcohol or drug misuse may exhibit symptoms that include:

  • sudden behavior changes
  • risky behaviors
  • high tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
  • dependency (needing drugs or alcohol to get through the day)


  1. Both Conditions Should Be Treated Simultaneously

Both substance use and mental health disorders impact your health and influence one another. In order for treatment to be effective, both conditions need to be treated at the same time.  Treatment for dual diagnosis can include different behavioral therapy models and prescribed medication. Peer support can also help to improve recovery from dual diagnosis. Many people who participate in peer support groups receive help from sharing with others and learning they’re not alone. People with dual diagnoses may also benefit from detox programs, and then they can consider other forms of treatment to improve both conditions.  Inpatient treatment centers where staff are experienced and familiar with treating dual diagnosis can help. Having care available 24 hours a day, seven days a week can benefit patients, particularly in the early stages of treatment.  

  1. Behavioral Therapy Can Help

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is proven to be effective for treating dual diagnosis.  Other types of therapies, including dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and group therapy with others who share similar experiences, can help improve both conditions as well.  

  1. A Multidisciplinary Approach Is Best

Integrated or multidisciplinary treatment teams that address both diagnoses are the most effective choice for patients.  An experienced treatment team aware of the unique challenges of dually diagnosed people can integrate treatment and offer holistic ways to improve both disorders. Effective teams are likely to include professionals across various disciplines, including psychiatry and counseling. Patients with dual diagnosis can risk relapse or worsening symptoms if they’re part of substance-use only treatment programs, or if they receive treatment only for their mental health condition and fail to address addiction or substance use.   Support, understanding, and compassion provided by a multidisciplinary, integrated treatment team is the best way to help patients with dual diagnosis strengthen their mental, emotional, and physical health.