What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis (also known as co-occurring disorders) refers to the phenomenon of an individual having more than one mental health disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that approximately 50% of people with substance abuse disorders also have some other form of mental illness, and vice versa.

In most cases, people with dual diagnosis have a substance abuse problem and one or more psychiatric disorders, such as depression or anxiety, but some people can be diagnosed with more than two disorders at once.

The most common mental illnesses to have along with substance abuse are depression and anxiety because these conditions can intensify when someone abuses drugs or alcohol. Psychosis, triggered by drug use, may also occur in individuals with A dual diagnosis.

To get the best recovery and treatment plan possible, you should get an accurate diagnosis that considers your mental and physical health. Learn more about dual diagnosis here, including what it means, how to spot it, and how to find support if you or someone you love has it.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe when someone has both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. It’s important to treat both problems at the same time because they can make the other worse. Without treatment, dual diagnosis can be very dangerous.

But with the right help, people can recover and live healthy lives. With comprehensive care that addresses all aspects of addiction, people can learn how to deal with their underlying issues and addiction. Mental health treatment also needs to focus on the specific issues associated with that person’s disorder so they don’t develop new ones.

The type of therapy or counseling that works for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s important to find a therapist who is experienced in treating addiction and mental health disorders.

Causes of Dual Diagnosis

There are many possible causes of dual diagnosis. One cause may be that a person has two different types of mental illness. For example, a person may have both depression and anxiety. Another possible cause is that a person has a mental illness and a substance abuse problem.

Substance abuse can make mental illness symptoms worse. It can also make it difficult to treat mental illness. Dual diagnosis is also more common in people with a family history of mental illness or substance abuse. People who have experienced trauma, such as child abuse or military combat, are also at higher risk for dual diagnosis.

Other factors that have been pinpointed to be the cause of dual diagnosis include:


Genetics can be one of the causes of dual diagnosis. A person’s genes may contribute to their vulnerability to developing certain mental disorders. For example, a person with a family history of bipolar disorder may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.

In addition, certain genes have been linked to an increased risk for schizophrenia. Studies have shown that people with certain genetic variations are more likely to develop the disorder.


There are many ways that environmental factors can cause dual diagnosis. For example, someone exposed to a lot of stress or trauma in their life may be more likely to develop both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. Poverty, homelessness, and exposure to violence can also lead to dual diagnosis.

In some cases, certain medical conditions or medications can trigger both mental illness and substance abuse. It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and there are many factors that can contribute to the development of dual diagnosis.

Brain Chemistry

Different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making, while the limbic system is responsible for emotion. When someone has a mental illness, there is usually an imbalance in the brain chemistry in these areas.

This can lead to someone making impulsive decisions or being unable to control their emotions. Dual diagnosis occurs when someone has both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. This can be caused by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to try to cope with the symptoms of their mental illness. Dual diagnosis is difficult to treat because mental illness and substance abuse must be addressed.

Drugs Abused by People Suffering from Dual Diagnosis

There are a variety of drugs that are commonly used and abused by people with dual diagnoses. These include antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants. Antipsychotics are used to treat psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. Mood stabilizers are used to treat mood swings and instability. Antidepressants are used to treat depression.

The most common drugs that people with dual diagnosis abuse include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs. People with dual diagnoses often abuse multiple substances, making treatment difficult.

Some people with dual diagnoses also suffer from addiction to opioids such as heroin or opioid painkillers. In some cases, these drug addictions can lead to an increased risk of overdose because they may result in decreased tolerance and increased cravings for the drug.

Another group of drugs commonly abused by people with dual diagnoses is stimulants. Stimulants increase dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, in addition to many other brain processes. Commonly abused stimulants include cocaine, amphetamines (e.g., Adderall or Vyvanse), and methamphetamines (meth).

The Most Common Dual Diagnosis

There are many different types of dual diagnosis, but the most common is when someone suffers from both a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. This can be a difficult combination to manage, as each disorder can exacerbate the other. But with treatment, it is possible to recover and live a healthy, happy life. Some common dual diagnoses include:

Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and Alcohol Abuse

ADHD and alcohol abuse is a common dual diagnosis. Many people with ADHD self-medicate with alcohol to try to calm their hyperactive minds. Unfortunately, this can lead to alcoholism and make the ADHD symptoms worse. If you or someone you know has ADHD and is abusing alcohol, it’s important to get help from a professional who can treat both disorders.

Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol

Bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse often go hand-in-hand. Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the central nervous system and can cause sleep problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, or low self-esteem in someone with bipolar disorder.

Conversely, bipolar disorder may lead to binge drinking because some people with bipolar may drink more heavily in an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms of anxiety or depression that are not responsive to other treatment options.

Alcohol can worsen mania by triggering irritability and aggressive behavior; it can also trigger a depressive episode combined with withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia or lack of appetite.

Depression and Cocaine Addiction

Depression and cocaine addiction is a common dual diagnosis because cocaine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant. Depression is characterized by low energy levels, fatigue, and a general feeling of sadness.

When someone uses cocaine, they may initially feel more energetic and happier. However, the effects of cocaine are short-lived, and eventually, the person will crash and feel even worse than before. This can lead to a spiral of using more cocaine to feel better, leading to more depression and addiction.

Eating Disorders and Appetite Suppressants

Eating disorders and appetite suppressants are common dual diagnoses because they often go hand-in-hand. Appetite suppressants are often used as a way to control weight, and eating disorders can develop as a result of an unhealthy relationship with food.

This combination can be dangerous and lead to serious health problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder and taking appetite suppressants, it’s important to seek help from a professional.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Opioid Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and opioid addiction are often comorbid, meaning that people with PTSD are more likely to develop an addiction to opioids. There are several reasons for this comorbidity.

First, people with PTSD often turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms. Second, the brain changes resulting from PTSD can make someone more vulnerable to developing an addiction. Finally, people with PTSD may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors leading to drug use and addiction.

Schizophrenia and Marijuana Addiction

There are a few reasons schizophrenia and marijuana addiction might be common dual diagnoses. People with schizophrenia are more likely to self-medicate with marijuana to try to relieve their symptoms.

Marijuana use can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia, which can lead to more self-medication and a vicious cycle. People suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to have social and financial problems that make it difficult to stay away from drugs.

Common Signs of Those That Experience a Dual Diagnosis

There are a few key signs and symptoms to look out for if you think someone you know may be suffering from a dual diagnosis. They include:

  • The individual typically shuns interactions with friends, family, and anyone else who tries to offer them support.
  • Loss of appetite and weight changes
  • Reckless behavior
  • Angry and violent streaks
  • Insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Severe tension and overwhelming worry
  • Difficulty in concentration
  • Frequent delusions or hallucinations
  • Continuous prolonged feelings of despair, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Persistent internal anxiety that can only be relieved by certain rituals and behaviors
  • Difficulty balancing priorities such as work or academics
  • Relationship problems due to mood swings or behavior problems
  • Random and drastic shifts in moods or energy levels

Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you may wonder if a dual diagnosis is treatable. The answer is yes—dual diagnosis is treatable, but seeking specialized treatment is important.

Mental health disorders and addiction often co-occur, and each can exacerbate the other. When both are present, it’s called dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. It’s important to get treatment for both conditions because they can interact and worsen each other.

Without treatment, dual diagnosis can be very complex and difficult to manage. But with treatment, you can overcome these challenges and live a healthy, fulfilling life. The available treatment options include:

Partial Treatment

Partial treatment is the dual diagnosis treatment of the primary mental health issue alone. In some cases, this can be an effective form of treatment. This can be an effective form of treatment if the secondary diagnosis is not causing major problems.

However, it’s important to remember that treating only the primary mental health issue can lead to a relapse of the other disorder.

It’s also important to note that not all mental health professionals are trained in dual diagnosis treatment, so it’s important to find a provider who is. That being said, with proper support and guidance from your therapist, you may be able to find partial treatment success.

Sequential Treatment

Sequential treatment first addresses the mental health condition and then the substance abuse issue. This is because treating the mental health condition can help to address the underlying causes of the substance abuse, making it easier to treat.

In addition, treating the mental health condition can help to reduce the symptoms that may be causing the substance abuse. Dual diagnosis is important because it can help to improve the quality of life for those who suffer from both conditions.

Parallel Treatment

Parallel treatment provides for simultaneous but separate treatment of drug abuse and mental health disorders with different healthcare providers. Mental health care providers diagnose and treat co-occurring disorders through various behavioral therapies and medications.

Alcohol abuse is treated with abstinence, while psychological symptoms are managed simultaneously by the patient’s primary physician or psychiatrist, who will refer them to appropriate specialists as needed. In some cases, patients may need to enter a dual diagnosis inpatient rehabilitation facility that specializes in treating both addiction and psychiatric illness at the same time.

Integrated Treatment

Integrated treatment includes both mental health and addiction treatment under a single unified program. This can be beneficial because it allows for a more holistic approach to care and can prevent patients from falling through the cracks of the mental health and addiction systems.

It is important to note that not all facilities offer integrated treatment, so it is important to do your research to find a facility that meets your needs. An integrated program will typically include some combination of individual counseling, group therapy, family education, outpatient therapy sessions, and residential rehabilitation services.

How Defining Wellness Can Help Those That Have Been Diagnosed with A Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is a term used to describe someone suffering from both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem. It can be difficult to treat because the two issues can feed off of each other, making it hard to know which came first.

Dual diagnosis rehabilitation programs can help a person address the effects of both conditions on their brain chemistry while getting them on track for recovery. These programs are tailored to meet the needs of each individual and include comprehensive therapy and medical interventions like medication management and detoxification.

Treatment facilities like Defining Wellness are equipped to deal with a dual diagnosis and can help patients by providing comprehensive care that addresses both the addiction and the underlying mental illness. This can help prevent relapse and improve the chances of long-term recovery.

Defining Wellness uses a holistic approach to addiction treatment. This is because when it comes to dual diagnosis, it’s not uncommon for certain substances to be used as coping mechanisms for mental health issues or vice versa.

In addition to treating addictions with evidence-based methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI), Defining Wellness staff members help patients examine underlying mental illnesses that could be causing their substance abuse issues, such as untreated bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.