Updated on February 28, 2024
3 min read

What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Key Takeaways

People who struggle with substance abuse may also struggle with mental illness.

Doctors call co-occurring addiction and mental illness a dual diagnosis.

Whether a person started with an addiction or a mental health disorder, both types require concurrent treatment.

Addiction can often worsen mental health problems and vice versa.

Who Needs Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

People with co-occurring problems need dual diagnosis treatment. Many people may never recover from either illness if they aren't treated simultaneously.

Because of how mental illness and addiction feed into each other, it can be difficult to recover from both conditions.1 Identifying the dual diagnosis may help you get the combined treatment you need.

If you need a dual diagnosis, you'll need to get a diagnosis from a doctor to receive inpatient treatment or prescription medicine. To receive a proper dual diagnosis, visit a dual diagnosis treatment center.


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Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis

Almost all dual diagnoses require some level of combined treatment. For the best chance for a full recovery, dual diagnosis treatment should include:

  • Professional help
  • Psychotherapy treatment
  • Medication for mental illness when necessary
  • Support from loved ones

Types of Therapy Used in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Therapy used at a dual diagnosis treatment center combines different treatments. Standard therapies used at a dual diagnosis treatment center include:

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Why Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated Differently?

Over 45% of people struggle with a dual diagnosis.1 Because dual diagnosis is a complex condition, doctors must treat it differently.3 

Many overlapping factors in dual diagnosis can aggravate either condition. These factors include:

  • Brain responses: Abusing alcohol can elicit symptoms that mimic or worsen mental illnesses; for example, alcohol-related anxiety and depression
  • Genetics: A person’s genetic predisposition can make them more likely to develop an addiction or a mental disorder5
  • Environmental triggers: Chronic stress, anxiety, or a traumatic event can kickstart an addiction or mental disorder
  • Exposure at an early age: People who start drinking young may develop a co-occurring disorder because they are more prone to brain damage from substance use

Common Mental Health Conditions Associated with Addiction

The connection between substance abuse and mental health disorders is complex. In most cases, mental illnesses and addiction go hand in hand.1

The most common mental health conditions associated with addiction and substance abuse are:

Signs and Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Spotting a dual diagnosis can be difficult. Many people don’t know that addiction is often a symptom of a mental illness. 

However, there are a few signs and symptoms you can look out for. These include a combination of physical, behavioral, and mental symptoms such as: 

Physical Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders tend to have physical signs that can potentially lead to long-term health issues. These include:

  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Malnutrition
  • Major weight gain or weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Erratic alteration in pulse rates
  • Hyperventilation

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Behavioral Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

People who struggle with addiction and substance abuse can have erratic behaviors or drastic personality changes. Other behavioral signs of co-occurring disorders include:

  • Inappropriate behaviors
  • Unwarranted reactions to minor issues
  • Extreme levels of high and low energy
  • Aggressiveness 
  • Using substances to cope with sadness or anger
  • Losing interest in activities that were once very important
  • Social isolation
  • Poor sleeping habits

Psychosocial Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Aside from behavioral changes, there are also severe psychosocial changes. These include:

  • Severe impatience or agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Emotional detachment from friends and family
  • Deep sadness
  • Anger and aggressiveness toward others
  • Manic behavior or feeling invincible
  • Self-isolation and self-hatred

Cognitive Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Lastly, there are also other mental symptoms associated with co-occurring disorders. These include:

  • Panic
  • Bouts of confusion
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Feelings of disorientation
  • Loss of memory and blackouts
  • Trouble focusing

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Updated on February 28, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on February 28, 2024
  1. 2019-2020 National Surveys On Drug Use And Health: Model-Based Estimated Totals (In Thousands).” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022.
  2.  “Harvard Doctor Debunks 'Bad Science’ Behind 12-Step Programs.” WBUR Radio Boston, 2014.
  3. What Are Co-occurring Disorders?” Behavioral Health Evolution, 2016.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Illness.” Case Western Reserve University, 2017. 
  5. What is Drug Addiction?” National Institute on Drug Use, 2020.
  6. Larse et al. “What kind of science for dual diagnosis? A pragmatic examination of the enactive approach to psychiatry.” Frontiers in Psychology, 2022.
  7. Chiu et al. “The Temporal Relationship between Selected Mental Disorders and Substance-Related Disorders: A Nationwide Population-Based Cohort Study.” Psychiatry journal, 2018.

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