Dual Diagnosis an Integrated Approach to Recovery

A person who experiences both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem is said to have a dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders. Although the name of the condition may not be familiar, a dual diagnosis is a relatively common occurrence. Research shows that about one-third of people with a mental illness also struggle with substance abuse.1

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the relationship between substance abuse and mental health, and we’ll talk about the best treatment strategies for a dual diagnosis.

Types of Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis can take many forms. While some pairs of disorders are seen more frequently than others, any combination of addiction and mental illness can qualify as a case of dual diagnosis. Some common forms of co-occurring disorders include depression and alcoholism, anxiety and prescription drug abuse and addiction that occurs alongside an eating disorder.

Because so many different conditions can be present in a case of co-occurring disorders, the range of symptoms is broad. The best way to find out if you have a dual diagnosis is to be evaluated by an addiction specialist or mental health specialist.

Understanding the Causes

Study after study reinforces the link between addiction and mental illness. One study revealed that people with a history of alcohol abuse were four times more likely to suffer from depression than people without alcohol problems.2

However, the causes of a dual diagnosis tend to be less clear. Biology is likely to play a role, and some scientists believe that the same genetic factors that leave people vulnerable to mental illness also increase their risk of addiction.

In some cases, a dual diagnosis can be the result of a coping mechanism that went wrong. It’s not difficult for an addiction to form when you’re using drugs or alcohol to deal with the symptoms of a mental illness.

In other instances, a dual diagnosis may begin with substance abuse. Certain drugs cause chemical changes in the brain that can trigger an underlying mental health disorder. Regardless of the cause, the most important goal for a person with co-occurring disorders is to get the right diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment and Recovery

The most effective way to treat a dual diagnosis is with an integrated treatment approach in which both the substance abuse and the mental health disorder are addressed at the same time, under the same roof. Every case of dual diagnosis is different, so no single treatment plan will be right for everyone; instead, treatment is customized to fit your individual needs.

After the initial period of rehab is complete, it’s important to have a solid recovery plan in place. A sober living home can help you tackle the challenges of recovery and provide the support you need.

When you’re battling both mental illness and addiction, a stable, supportive environment can be the key to avoiding relapse. Help is available to assist you as you build yourself up and grow into your new, sober life.


  1. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis
  2. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/other-psychiatric-disorders

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