The term “dual diagnosis” refers to someone dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition. The issues often present together because drugs and alcohol are used by some in an attempt to self-medicate the symptoms of an undiagnosed mental illness (from bipolar or anxiety to PTSD, trauma or depression) or life experiences result in depression, trauma or some other behavioral health issue and they use or abuse drugs or alcohol to escape unwanted feelings. Despite how common dual diagnosis is, many still don’t know much about it, so we’re sharing 10 top facts about co-occurring treatment.

  1. Dual diagnosis is not a rare phenomenon – Some studies indicate that well over half of those with a drug or alcohol addiction also have some form of mental illness.
  2. Dual diagnosis comes in many forms – Any combination of mental illness (including anxiety disorder, depression, etc.) and addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, etc.) can qualify an individual as a dual diagnosis patient. The possibilities are almost endless.
  3. Dual diagnoses are best treated together by a professional – One of the things that make dual diagnoses so difficult to treat is that it is hard to know where certain symptoms are coming from. For example, if a dual diagnosis patient is suffering from depression, there’s no way to initially know whether the drug addiction or the individual’s mental illness is causing the problem. Depression is a symptom of many things, so it’s best to have a medical professional work with you to find the root cause and treat it.
  4. In a dual diagnosis, each condition has the potential to make the other worse – Frustrating mental health symptoms can make drugs or alcohol seem to quiet some mental health symptoms initially, but any positive effects are short-lived. Substance use (or misuse) exacerbates mental health issues, causing further imbalances and making the condition worse. Conversely, the effects of drugs or alcohol are less predictable in those with a mental health issue. As a result, they can be even more dangerous.
  5. Those with mental illness are more susceptible to addiction – It seems so unfair, but those coping with mental illness are at risk for addiction. That doesn’t mean someone with a mental health issue is destined to struggle with addiction (any more than someone with a family history is), but those who experience bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and similar conditions are more likely to see their casual drug or alcohol use escalate to an addiction.
  6. Not all treatment facilities are equipped to handle dual diagnosis patients – Co-occurring treatment should take place under the direction of licensed clinical staff experienced in dual diagnosis methods.
  7. The best dual diagnosis programs provide integrated treatment – Treating both the mental illness and addiction at the same time, all under one roof, has proven to be the most successful method.
  8. Dual diagnosis treatment may take longer to complete – Don’t get hung up on numbers. While it’s a sacrifice to take a break from everyday life in order to get help, it’s important to commit to being in a program for as long as is necessary. Reputable treatment programs will work with you each step of way, helping you set goals and recommending that you “step down” to less intensive programs when appropriate. Beware of those who offer a “quick fix.” The end goal is lasting, long-term recovery, and you won’t find a shortcut to reaching that.
  9. Good dual diagnosis programs aren’t cookie-cutter – Co-occurring treatment shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. You want a treatment team that will create a plan based on your individual needs and adjust that plan as you progress.
  10. Help is readily available – If you or someone you know has a dual diagnosis, contact us today.