Dual Diagnosis



In 2020, over 17 million adults struggled with substance abuse and mental health. This dangerous combination is a dual diagnosis, and it’s a serious problem.

Drugs and alcohol are frequent coping methods for those who struggle with mental health issues. People will use illegal substances to feel better, but rarely does it have the desired effect. In fact, substance abuse can make mental health disorders worse.

If you suspect you or your loved one might have a dual diagnosis, keep reading to learn how to spot and treat it.


A Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) diagnosis happens when an individual struggles with addiction. This year, over 40 million Americans aged 12 and older experienced SUD.

But a dual diagnosis is the combination of SUD and any other mental health disorder. It can be a dangerous combination and often requires a complex treatment plan.

SUD doesn’t necessarily cause mental health disorders and vice versa. Instead, the two are closely linked and affect the severity of one another.


An estimated 70% of people with mental health disorders don’t seek or receive treatment. But living with a mental illness, diagnosed or not, is challenging.

Thus, alcohol and drugs can become a quick way to self-medicate. Individuals might abuse substances to lessen their symptoms or block out their emotions.

The dangers of self-medicating are grave. Not only does it slow down the healing process, but it can also worsen the illness. Other hazards of self-medication include:

  • Increased risk of self-harm and suicide
  • Unwillingness to receive treatment
  • Higher chances of relapse
  • Become a trigger for psychosis
  • Increase denial of the diagnosis

If you, or someone you know, are self-medicating, it’s time to get help. An intervention might be a good idea if it’s a close friend or family member.

Increased Risks of Mental Illness

Some evidence shows that SUD can increase the risk of developing a mental illness. Abusing drugs or alcohol can change the brain’s function. These changes can bring on symptoms of a mental illness that didn’t exist before.

Intensity of Symptoms

Substance abuse often happens because people are looking for relief. Unfortunately, the opposite effect occurs. For example, alcohol increases the intensity of depression symptoms because it’s a depressant.


A dual diagnosis can occur with almost every mental health disorder. Some are more common than others. Depression and anxiety disorders are most often present in a dual diagnosis.


The most common combination is SUD and major depression. It is prevalent in 12% to 80% of cases. The biggest reason for this co-occurrence is self-medication.

Genetic factors and brain processes also contribute to the high majority of this dual diagnosis. Using depressants to cope with depression increases the intensity of symptoms. The results can be disastrous, leading to self-harm or suicide.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders include a group of other mental illnesses, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Social Phobias
  • Panic Disorder

Anxiety is a widespread issue, with over 30% of U.S adults experiencing it at some point in their life. It’s also one of the most common dual diagnoses.

People with anxiety disorders often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to relieve symptoms. The result is a need for higher doses to maintain the high, leading to addiction.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme emotions, manic highs, and depressive lows. Substance abuse can raise the intensity of these emotions, triggering a switch. Alcohol abuse, especially, can lead to depressive episodes.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a common disorder that affects executive functioning skills. Individuals with ADHD are usually given stimulants as part of their treatment plan.

Stimulants can be habit-forming, and abuse often happens. Alternatively, undiagnosed people might abuse illegal stimulants like cocaine to treat their symptoms.


Symptoms of a dual diagnosis include the signs of mental illness, as well as addiction. Each mental health disorder has its own set of symptoms, but a few common ones include:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Severe changes in mood
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, activities, and work
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Mood swings
  • Increased or decrease energy levels
  • Trouble with focus, memory, and concentration
  • Loss of motivation
  • Hallucinations or extreme delusions

In addition to these mental health symptoms, you’ll also spot signs of substance use. Some of which are:

  • Constant thoughts about the substance
  • Increasing the dosage to maintain the high
  • Panic when there’s no access to the substance
  • Overspending or engaging in risky behavior to secure the substance
  • Trying to quit but failing
  • Continuing use while knowing about the effects
  • Going through withdrawal after a time of not using the substance

If you exhibit a combination of these symptoms, it might be time to seek treatment. Luckily, early diagnosis and an effective treatment plan increase your chances of success!

Don’t Wait for the Worst. Let’s Get Better Today.


A dual diagnosis can involve lengthier treatment because two issues need to be addressed at once. Treatment plans often focus on one disorder at a time, causing the other to progress further. The key to getting the best help is to choose an integrative treatment.

This plan deals with SUD and the accompanying disorder simultaneously. Research shows that individuals who follow this method have a higher success rate. They also have lower chances of relapse and significant symptom reduction.

Regardless of which treatment plan you choose, the recommended first step is detox. It’s then followed by inpatient and outpatient treatment.


The initial step treats the substance addiction. Detox usually lasts one or two weeks, depending on the severity of the addiction. Withdrawal symptoms are typical and can be treated with medication.

Inpatient Program

The second recommended step requires the patient to live in the facility for several weeks or months. Here they have access to round-the-clock care and intensive therapy. Medication, group therapy, holistic programs, and medical treatments round out the plan.

Outpatient Program

Once the individual finishes inpatient treatment, they return to their normal lives. Except for this time, they have a support group in the form of their counseling team. Outpatient programs also include therapy, medication, group therapy, and more.

Intensive Outpatient Program

For those that need a little extra help, intensive programs require more face time at the clinic. There are usually longer therapy sessions and workshops to attend. Individuals who don’t need the detox step can also choose an intensive outpatient program to start with.


If you, or someone you know, is experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, they may have a dual diagnosis. The first step is to get properly assessed by a mental health professional. From there, you can decide which steps to take.

If you’ve completed your detox, you might be looking for the next steps. Staying sober and dealing with mental health issues alone is difficult, but we can help.

Call Dream Recovery at (657) 216-7218 to talk to an admission specialist today!

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