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Updated on December 22, 2022
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Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

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.

Identifying the dual diagnosis may help people get the combined treatment they need.

Do You Need a Dual Diagnosis from a Doctor to Receive Treatment?

Yes, you will 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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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 

Substance abuse can occur when someone self-medicates their mental illness. However, mental illnesses can also worsen due to drugs and alcohol.

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: 

Type of SymptomAssociated Signs & Symptoms
Physical Extreme tiredness or fatigueMalnutritionMajor weight gain or weight lossInsomniaHypersomniaElevated blood pressure, erratic alteration in pulse rates, and hyperventilation
Behavioral Erratic behavior and acting outInappropriate behaviors and unwarranted reactions to minor issuesMajor changes in personality traitsExtreme levels of high and low energyAggressiveness Using substances to cope with sadness or angerLosing interest in activities that were once very importantWithdrawal from close friends and family - social isolationInappropriate sleeping habits
Psychosocial Severe impatience or agitationMood swingsSuicidal thoughts or attemptsEmotional detachment from friends and familyDeep sadnessAnger and aggressiveness towards othersManic behavior or feeling invincibleSelf-isolation and self-hatred
Cognitive PanicBouts of confusionAnxiety and paranoiaFeelings of disorientationLoss of memory and blackoutsTrouble focusing

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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:

Why Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated Differently?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 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 a mental illness. For example, alcohol can worsen anxiety and depression.
  • Genetics: A person’s genetic predisposition can make them more likely to develop an addiction or a mental disorder.5
  • 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 at a young age may develop a co-occurring disorder. This is because adolescents are more prone to brain damage from substance use than adults.

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Updated on December 22, 2022
7 sources cited
Updated on December 22, 2022
  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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