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Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Why Is It Important?

Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Why Is It Important? – When a person suffers from addiction in addition to a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression, this is referred to as a dual diagnosis (also known as co-occurring or comorbid disorders). Dual diagnosis is very common among those who engage in substance abuse, and treatment demands comprehensive care to address both conditions appropriately.

Frequently, one disorder exacerbates the other – for instance, a person with depression may resort to substance use as a means to self-medicate. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution and can rapidly devolve into a worsening of mental health. Conversely, substance abuse itself can induce depression and anxiety to the extent that these symptoms become fully diagnosable as a disorder.

There is no single scientific explanation as to why mental illness, substance abuse, and addiction occur together so often. Most experts contend that a combination of biological, developmental, and environmental factors converge in a way that appears to contribute to both conditions.

Unfortunately, people who experience both mental illness and substance use disorders often encounter symptoms that are more intense and resistant to treatment when compared to those who suffer from only one condition.

Dual Diagnosis Assessment

During a clinical assessment for a dual diagnosis, health professionals gather collect information and examine many factors, such as the following:

Does the patient…

  • …meet criteria for one or more psychological conditions?
  • …have a history of substance abuse that has negatively affected their health, family, relationships, work, etc.?
  • …appear to be a threat to the safety of themselves or others?
  • …have a strong support system and resources available?
  • …display the motivation to engage in rehab and, ultimately, enter recovery?

Signs and Symptoms of Related Disorders

Mental health and substance abuse often co-occur together, but the symptoms can usually be distinguished. Common signs and symptoms of a mental health condition include the following:

  • Impulsive or risky behavior
  • Suicidal or homicidal ideations
  • A lack of interest in daily activities
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Lack of energy, fatigue, and lethargy
  • Negative changes in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns
  • Racing, intrusive thoughts and difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, shame, and fear

Symptoms and behaviors associated with substance abuse and addiction include the following:

  • An inability to control substance use
  • Cravings for drugs or alcohol are experienced
  • Tolerance develops, meaning more of a substance is needed to achieve the desired effect
  • Symptoms of withdrawal manifest when the person attempts to quit or cut back
  • Life revolves around acquiring, using and recovering from substance use
  • There is a failure to meet critical obligations, such as school, work, family, and relationships

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Suffering from a mental health condition in combination with a substance abuse disorder can be incredibly challenging. Nonetheless, through participation in intensive treatment, such as behavioral interventions, committed individuals will find that recovery is indeed possible.

Behavioral Therapy

Dual Diagnosis Treatment | Midwood Addiction Treatment

Behavioral therapies may include the following:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy – A form of psychotherapy that seeks to reduce problematic beliefs, feelings, and practices and displace them for healthier, more positive thoughts and patterns of behavior.

Dialectic behavioral therapy – A form of psychotherapy that has the goal of reducing harmful behaviors.

Integrated group therapy – A form of psychotherapy that is based heavily on peer support and addresses the symptoms of both mental health conditions and substance abuse simultaneously.


Treating a person with a dual-diagnosis often include the use of medication in addition to psychotherapy, depending on the mental health and substance use disorder. For example, anti-depressants are often used for depression or anxiety, and opioid replacement therapy can be employed for persons who are dependent on heroin or prescription painkillers.

Inpatient Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Depending on the intensity of the mental illness or addiction, a person may benefit from a partial hospitalization program (PHP). Due to the complicated nature of a dual diagnosis, many people with co-occurring conditions will require continual, long-term support from multiple health professionals, such as general practitioners, counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists.

PHP rehab programs are more intensive than outpatient programs because clients can receive the following services:

  • Daily therapy sessions
  • Daily support group participation
  • Immersion in a community with similar experiences
  • Continuing education on mental health conditions, substance abuse, and addiction

Outpatient Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Outpatient treatment, conversely, is more flexible than PHP treatment. People who choose outpatient treatment have successfully completed an inpatient or PHP treatment program or require more freedom to tend to work, school, or family responsibilities.

Patients may receive a variety of services during outpatient treatment, including:

  • Transportation
  • Individual and family therapy
  • Medication assisted-treatment
  • Support for independent sober living
  • Involvement in peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous

If you or someone close to you is suffering from substance abuse and a mental health disorder, please contact us immediately to discuss treatment options and begin the journey to recovery!

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