Dual Diagnosis and Treatment Challenges

A dual diagnosis occurs when someone experiences both an addiction and a mental disorder. Also known as co-occurring disorders, a dual diagnosis requires specialized, integrated treatment.

The Prevalence of Dual Diagnosis

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-third of all people who have a mental illness and half of those with a severe mental illness also have a substance use disorder, and one-third of people who abuse alcohol and over half of all drug users also have a mental illness.

The most common mental illnesses cited in a dual diagnosis are anxiety disorders and depressive disorders. These are highly treatable conditions, and managing the symptoms is essential for helping someone recover from a substance use disorder.

Causes of Dual Diagnosis

It can be difficult to determine whether a substance use disorder caused a mental illness or a mental illness led to a substance use disorder. However, there’s little doubt that a relationship exists between substance abuse and mental illness.

It’s common for someone with a mental illness to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may use alcohol to numb the memory of a traumatic event or to help battle PTSD-related insomnia, while someone with social anxiety disorder may use drugs or alcohol to feel more comfortable at social functions.

The problem is that drugs and alcohol almost always make a mental illness worse, which in turn may lead to heavier abuse and a higher risk of developing an addiction. Furthermore, drugs and alcohol can cause the onset of a mental illness where one didn’t previously exist.

Diagnosing Co-occurring Disorders

Making a dual diagnosis can be tricky, but a proper diagnosis and integrated treatment are essential for improving the outcomes of treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration promotes integrated screening and assessment, which means that anyone who enters treatment for a substance use disorder should be screened for a mental illness, and anyone who enters treatment for a mental illness should be screened for a substance use disorder.

If a screening points to a possible dual diagnosis, an integrated assessment should be performed that looks at each condition in the context of the other.

Integrated Treatment is Essential for Successful Recovery

Of the estimated 8.9 million American adults who have co-occurring disorders, only 7.4 percent receive integrated treatment, and over 55 percent don’t receive any treatment at all. Treating just a mental illness or just a substance use disorder is far less likely than integrated treatment to lead to successful long-term recovery.

Integrated treatment for dual diagnosis is a coordinated effort among members of each treatment team. The teams treat the mental illness in the context of the substance use disorder and vice versa, and communication lines are continually open to ensure all of a patient’s needs are being met.

Reclaim Your Life with Dual Diagnosis Treatment

If you’re living with a substance use disorder and a mental illness, it’s essential to get both under control. Through a holistic, integrated treatment program designed specifically for co-occurring disorders, you’ll address issues relevant to both the substance use disorder and the mental condition. In doing so, you’ll improve your chances for successful long-term recovery and increase your quality of life on both fronts.