Recovering from the grips of addiction is not easy. Overcoming what used to be a daily part of people’s lives takes courage and determination. However, people who have a substance abuse addiction and a mental health disorder are at a real disadvantage and deserve an integrated treatment approach fit to address both concerns concurrently. This approach is known as dual diagnosis treatment.

The presence of mental health disorders in people with alcohol and drug addiction is a common reality.

Studies have reported that 8.1 million people (41.2 percent) among 12.6 million adults with “past-year” substance use disorder (SUD) also had any mental illness (AMI) in 2015.

As you can see, it’s not unusual for people in active addiction to also have a mental health disorder. In fact, these conditions often are the underlying cause of the addiction. If you think you or your loved one is exhibiting signs of mental health or behavioral disorders while using addictive substances, then it may be time to seek help at a professional treatment center that addresses both conditions at the same time.

Which Mental Illnesses Most Affect Substance Use?

Some prevalent mental health disorders correlated with substance abuse are:

Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

People with ADHD could likely abuse their prescribed medication to better cope with their symptoms. This, however, can be habit-forming and may lead to a deadly dependence.

Bipolar Disorder

Reports have shown that nearly 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder also deal with addiction. People in these situations may find it easier to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, even if doing so provides temporary relief.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Addiction and borderline personality disorder are often co-concurrent with more than two-thirds of people afflicted with both turning to substance abuse.


Many people who have depression tend to lean toward drugs or alcohol to ease their worries, which inevitably worsens the problems. The crash after the high can be particularly devastating for people with this condition.

Eating Disorders

People with an eating disorder often use drugs that can help quell their appetite. This can lead to dependence so they can sustain their habit.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD is considered one of the most prevalent mental conditions in the United States, affecting nearly 18 percent of the adult population. Similar to other conditions, those with GAD may look to substances like benzodiazepines to help manage their symptoms.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD can manifest in various ways, but the underlying similarity is that people who have it also tend to struggle with depression and anxiety, which can lead to substance abuse.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Scientifically, a brain that has developed PTSD produces fewer endorphins compared to a healthy brain, leading people to use drugs or alcohol to feel “happy.”


Diagnosing anyone with schizophrenia is tough on its own, but diagnosing the condition in addition to addiction is especially tricky because of the shared effects of both conditions. It’s important to note that those with schizophrenia who take substances to self-medicate are at a higher health risk.

Dual diagnosis is a broad term used to encompass a variety of conditions paired with drug and alcohol abuse. Alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana are among the most common substances people with dual diagnosis tend to use and abuse.

Upon researching many of the similarities between alcohol and drug abuse and mental disorders, experts have grouped their findings into three categories that outline the layered relationship:

  • Abusing drugs can cause users to experience some symptoms similar to those mental health disorders.
  • Mental illness can lead to drug abuse, particularly in instances when self-medication spirals out of control.
  • Drug abuse disorders and mental illness can both be triggered by overlapping factors such as underlying brain deficits, early exposure to stress and trauma, and genetic vulnerabilities.

Naturally, the symptoms of dual diagnosis vary from person to person.

However, below are the common signs that can signal that dual diagnosis is the issue. The signs and symptoms of dual diagnosis are:

  • Avoiding events that you previously used to enjoy
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Difficulty managing daily tasks and responsibilities
  • Disillusioned thinking
  • Erratic behavior
  • Problems with managing finances
  • Neglecting health and hygiene
  • Refusing to seek treatment
  • Thoughts of suicide

Given the symptoms, it seems in many cases that substance abuse hides the underlying mental disorder, which makes diagnosing it all the more difficult.

According to a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), only about eight percent of the 7.9 million people with a dual diagnosis condition receive treatment for both disorders. And, unfortunately, more than 50 percent receive no treatment for either the mental illness or the substance abuse.

Is Dual Diagnosis Common?

As the concept of dual diagnosis has gained more and more traction among the substance abuse treatment community, it has been found to be part of the cause of addiction in more and more cases. Based on data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 12.6 million adults with substance abuse disorders in the U.S., more than eight million had a dual diagnosis condition.

This means that more than half of the people that struggle with substance addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

It’s imperative to understand that when neither illness is properly treated, one can make the other much worse. Two separate illnesses are at play, which means both need to be treated together to achieve long-lasting results.

Additional Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment are:

  • Learning coping skills
  • Receiving two treatments in one
  • Mental health education
  • Long-term planning

Therapies Used for Dual Diagnosis

Each person’s case is unique, so the treatment methods used will vary from situation to situation. However, some common techniques and modalities help many dually diagnosed people. These include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This method is widely accepted as the most effective way of helping people tackle the causes of their addiction. Rather than focusing solely on the past to find the cause, CBT focuses on the internal conflicts, thoughts, and emotions that fuel an addiction.

Holistic Therapies

Many addiction rehab facilities promote the idea that recovery must take place in the body, mind, and spirit for it to be effective. This is known as holistic therapy and can include alternative treatment methods such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, as well as art and music therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (Emdr)

This technique has been proven to help people who have mental disorders stemming from traumatic experiences, such as PTSD. By having the person recount the traumatic events while engaging in monotonous eye movement activities, the brain re-processes the event in a way that is not as detrimental to the mind.

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