Dual Diagnosis


How to recognize and treat a dual diagnosis.

Substance abuse and mental health problems both originate within the brain’s, which makes for a destructive, dynamic duo when one condition triggers the makings of the other. Dual diagnosis conditions (also known as co-occurring disorders) often go undiagnosed and untreated, with many sufferers seeking treatment for either a substance problem or mental health issues, but seldom both.

When left untreated, dual diagnosis only gets worse with time to the point where it all but destroys your quality of life. Broken homes, failing health and ongoing emotional turmoil most characterize the life of a dual diagnosis sufferer.

The good news is, with the right supports in place, dual diagnosis is a treatable condition. Detox.com can help you or someone you know find treatment programs that meet your needs and help you take back of control of your life from the effects of this condition. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to get started.

Statistics on Dual Diagnosis Conditions

  • According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 18.1 percent of American adults struggle with some form of mental illness.
  • As of 2013, 8.4 percent, or 20.2 million adults, have a substance abuse disorder. Of this number 7.9 million battled both substance abuse and mental illness.
  • Over 50 percent of drug abusers also live with one or more mental health problems.
  • Prior to the year 2000, alcohol remained the drug of choice for over 50 percent of dual diagnosis sufferers. As of 2000, opiates and prescription pain pill abuse have continued to rise as the drug of choice.
  • Over 50 percent of people living with dual diagnosis conditions have received no treatment for either disorder.

Causes of Dual Diagnosis

While the actual cause of dual diagnosis remains unknown, both genetic and environmental factors may play a role in its development, according to Dartmouth College. Genetic vulnerabilities can make you susceptible to substance abuse, as well as mental health problems. Once you develop one of these conditions, the risk of developing the other increases considerably.

Environmental factors have more to do with the effects excessive strain (in any form) have on the brain’s chemical makeup and ability to maintain normal functioning. Environmental influences may take the form of:

  • Periods of high stress
  • Physical trauma
  • Emotional trauma
  • Sexual abuse

Any one of the above circumstances can open the door for mental health problems to take hold. Without the coping skills and supports needed to process these events, the risk of developing a substance abuse problem runs high.

Forms of Dual Diagnosis to Watch For

Considering the wide range of addictive substances and mental health problems that exist, dual diagnosis conditions can take any number of forms. Substance abuse disorders alone span a spectrum of substances, some of which include:

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Likewise, mental health disorders run the gamut from behavioral, to emotional to personality-based conditions, including:

The most commonly occurring mental health disorders associated with dual diagnosis are depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia.

Underlying Links Between Addiction and Mental Health Problems

Addiction and mental illness both take shape within the brain’s chemical system. Neurotransmitter chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, transmit information between the brain’s major centers. Both substance abuse, and mental illness create imbalances within the brain’s chemical makeup.

According to the University of Utah, addiction and mental illness are actually brain diseases that interact with one another when both are present. In turn, these two conditions will feed off one another, making both conditions more severe. This means a dual diagnosis condition will continue to worsen over time in the absence of needed treatment help.

If you suspect you or someone you know struggles with dual diagnosis disorder, we can help. Call our helpline at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to talk about available treatment options.

Short-Term Effects of Dual Diagnosis Conditions

On a day-to-day basis, the effects of dual diagnosis can vary depending on your drug of choice and the types of mental health problems you experience. So someone who’s drug of choice is heroin may well experience different effects than someone who’s drug of choice is cocaine. In the same light, the effects of dual diagnosis for someone with depression will be different than for someone who struggles with ADHD.

Depending on your condition, short-term effects of dual diagnosis may take the form of:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Mood swings
  • Problems concentrating or following-through on tasks
  • Inability to manage stress
  • Poor judgment and decision-making

Considering how mental illness and addiction aggravate one another, this interaction will play out in the actual symptoms experienced for each condition. For instance, the feelings of sadness that come with depression will fuel drug-using urges. As the “high” from the drug wears off, feelings of sadness come back even stronger.

Long-Term Effects of Dual Diagnosis Conditions

Long-term effects of dual diagnosis develop out of the physical and psychological damage done to the body and brain over time. While long-term substance abuse can cause widespread deterioration of the brain on a structural level, so can mental illness when left untreated. As the brain loses the ability to manage the body’s systems, serious physical problems start to develop, such as diabetes, malnutrition and heart disease.

Psychological and emotional decline also occurs. Before long, you lose the ability to manage the affairs of daily life, which can lead to job loss, financial decline and relationship problems. Severe emotional issues may also become a factor to the point where thoughts of suicide or striking out towards others become commonplace. According to the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, as many as 90 percent of people who commit suicide and die have a mental and/or substance abuse disorder.

Signs You or Someone You Know Struggles with Dual Diagnosis

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol when under stress or when upset
  • Attempts to stop drug or alcohol abuse lead to feelings of anger, violence or thoughts of suicide
  • Unable to cope with daily life without being “high”
  • Extreme mood swings or frequent fluctuations in mood
  • Needing drugs or alcohol to feel normal

For more information on dual diagnosis treatment programs, please feel free to call our helpline at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) .

Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis

Given how the effects of substance abuse and mental health affect different people in different ways, treatment for dual diagnosis can entail any combination of programs and services based on the needs of the individual. Since dual diagnosis entails two separate disorders, an integrated treatment approach is best able to manage the symptoms of both conditions at the same time.

Detox Treatment

Stopping the vicious cycle of substance abuse and mental illness starts with total abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Detox treatment programs provide the types of supports needed to fight drug and alcohol-using urges while helping you understand the role substance abuse plays in disrupting your mental well-being.

Inpatient Treatment

As a general rule, the more symptoms of dual diagnosis disrupt your day-to-day life the greater the need for intensive level treatment. Inpatient programs work with the most severe of conditions, providing round-the-clock medical and psychological care. If you’re struggling with a full-blown addiction problem while experiencing severe depression or anxiety, an inpatient setting may be best suited to help stabilize your mental health issues while helping you get a firm foothold in addiction recovery.

Call Detox.com at 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) for more information on dual diagnosis treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

According to SAMHSA, the level of overall risk and dysfunction present should determine the level of treatment care. If you’ve only been abusing drugs or alcohol for a short time and are still able to manage daily responsibilities, outpatient care may be able to provide the level of support you need. Otherwise, outpatient care should only be considered as a transitional form of treatment after completing a detox or inpatient program.

Medication Therapies

Medication therapies can be used as treatments for dual diagnosis conditions, though they’re typically used to treat either the mental illness or the addiction rather than the overall condition. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications work to stabilize the brain systems involved with emotional and psychological dysfunction. Medications, such as methadone and Antabuse may be used to relieve long-term withdrawal effects from severe opiate and alcohol addictions.

When to Consider Getting Treatment Help

If you’ve reached the point where you’re trying to self-medicate symptoms of depression, paranoia or anxiety with drugs or alcohol, it may well be time to consider getting some form of treatment help. According to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, other signs to watch for include:

  • An increase in drug or alcohol use after experiencing a traumatic event
  • Abusing addictive substances on a frequent basis
  • Periods of debilitating emotional duress
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide
  • Isolating, or withdrawing from friends and family
  • Managing a high stress lifestyle with alcohol or drugs

Contact Us for More Information

It’s never too soon to consider treatment once symptoms of dual diagnosis start to disrupt your daily life. Hoping things will go back to normal on their own is a recipe for disaster when emotional turmoil and substance abuse start to take over your life.

Detox.com can help you determine what type of program can meet your treatment needs and connect you with people who can help. Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to speak with someone about treatment options.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Mental and Substance Use Disorders. 
  2. Dartmouth College. (2012). Dual Diagnosis: Mental Illness and Substance Abuse.
  3. University of Utah. (n.d.). Mental Illness: The Challenge of Dual Diagnosis. 
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017). Substance Abuse and Suicide Prevention: Evidence & Implications.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Dual Diagnosis Capability in Mental Health Treatment Toolkit Version 4.0.
  6. Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. (n.d.). Dual Diagnosis: Addiction And Other Conditions. 
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