Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

“Dual diagnosis” is a medical term used to refer to someone who displays two independent disorders. Over the last few decades, dual diagnosis has been used in the field of mental health to refer to the presence of substance use disorder and one or more other psychiatric disorders. Because both of these disorders have their own impact on a person’s brain, the treatment for both of them will be complex.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to untie one disorder from the other. Both of the diseases would need to be treated alongside each other. In the past, as recently as the 1990s, it was thought that dual diagnoses could be treated separately. Today, we know that it’s far more effective to treat someone with a dual diagnosis as a combined approach. This knowledge has led to many rehab centers focusing on treating all disorders a visitor may have concurrently.

Unfortunately, because of how addiction works, someone suffering from a dual diagnosis cannot deal with treatment until they are sober. Sobriety and breaking an individual’s dependence on the substance are the first steps in treating a dual diagnosis patient.

Unfortunately, in many situations, these individuals aren’t able to deal with their linked issues. Rehab centers that are understaffed or overburdened may miss the dual diagnosis and attempt to treat a single problem instead of the whole. However, once a person has a dual diagnosis from a facility, they start on the road to recovery on the right foot.

Individuals with substance use disorder tend to struggle heavily with mental issues when dealing with their problems. It’s not uncommon to see someone deal with bouts of anxiety and depression while trying to overcome their dependence on drugs or alcohol.

While it might seem like an edge-case, dual diagnosis is much more common than most believe. Almost a quarter of the population that deals with a substance use disorder also have a mental illness. Because of the prevalence of mental illness in recovering individuals, dual diagnosis treatment is now, more than ever, an essential part of helping a person recover from their addiction.

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

As mentioned before, dual diagnosis treatment focuses on individuals who have two or more mental conditions in addition to their substance use disorder. These are known as co-occurring disorders and may overlap from time to time. Since co-occurring disorders happen so frequently alongside substance abuse disorder, is there some shared link between them? Researchers have isolated three possible reasons why these disorders are so closely related:

  • Overlapping Risk Factors: Both substance use disorder and other mental health conditions have a significant degree of overlap in their risk factors. Issues such as genetics and environmental factors can play a substantial part in causing these problems to arise.
  • Self-Medication: Many individuals who suspect they may have a mental disorder may not want to visit a medical professional. The stigma associated with mental health is still overbearing in some parts of the country. As a result, they self-medicate, exacerbating their substance use disorder.
  • Drug-Induced Anatomical Changes: Using drugs can lead to changes in areas of the brain that may be affected by mental disorders. Areas of the brain primarily associated with impulse control, anxiety disorders, and even mood may be affected as a result.

There are several tell-tale signs of co-occurring disorders that may be possible to spot in an individual. Some of these include:

  • Difficulty in dealing with everyday tasks: While by itself this doesn’t reveal anything, it may be a sign that a mental condition combined with substance abuse could be affecting someone’s everyday functioning.
  • Neglecting health and hygiene: Typically, when someone is dealing with substance use disorder, anything not directly related to acquiring the substance is ignored. Something as simple as personal hygiene may be a good indicator of someone dealing with a co-occurring disorder.
  • Sudden change in general behavior: This doesn’t take into account things like losing one’s temper occasionally. Instead, it focuses on long-term general behavior over a few weeks or months. The impact of substance use disorder may lead to a person’s mental illness becoming more apparent through their behavior.
  • Disillusioned thinking or cognitive impairment: The ability to think and reason may be severely impaired through substance use.
  • Poor performance at school or work: When co-occurring disorders show up, the person may find themselves focusing less and losing their edge in their academic or professional performance.
  • Terrible financial management: Substance abuse disorder is already a problem when managing finances and balancing a budget. Purchases of illicit substances are usually made without prior planning. Co-occurring disorders may exacerbate this type of behavior, leaving a person unable to meet their financial obligations for the month.
  • Avoiding events: Because a person’s zeal for life may be severely curtailed because of their substance use disorder, the complication of a co-occurring condition may lead to the person shunning activities they once enjoyed to try to cope.

Mental Health Issues and Addiction

Mental disorders show up often enough in those suffering from substance abuse disorder, but a few of them appear more often than others. As dual diagnosis notes, mental illnesses tend to be part of a person’s susceptibility to addiction. Among the most common mental health problems that present and contribute to a person’s dependence on a substance are:

Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a neurological disorder that makes it difficult for an individual to pay attention or cope with tedious or repetitive tasks. Individuals who have ADHD may find themselves taking a drug to better deal with their boredom. They may not even be aware that they’re dependent or addicted to the substance until someone points it out to them.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD is a mental disorder impacting how people think and feel about themselves or the people around them. While BPD isn’t caused by substance abuse (as it was thought in the past), dependence on substances can lead to a speeding up in the disorder’s progress.

Bipolar Disorder

Many people who have bipolar disorder also suffer from substance use disorder. Also known colloquially as “manic depression,” this disorder can lead to severe mood swings and massive differences in emotional highs and lows. Their introduction to substance use often occurs as a method of self-medication, trying to avoid the fallout of these massive mood swings.


One of the most common mental disorders in the United States is depression. An unfortunate consequence of living in such an affluent society is that it’s easy to find drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for depression. The result is that the person ends up feeling worse, leading to a downward spiral.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Another one of the most common disorders a professional will encounter within the US is GAD. Sufferers with this disorder have unexplained feelings of fear and anxiety, which leads to them being over-alert. Many people with GAD seek out drugs and alcohol for self-medication, similar to those suffering from depression. It’s not uncommon to find both of these disorders in the same person.

Eating Disorders

Body image problems typically stem from being in an environment that promotes unhealthy stereotypes of beauty. Individuals who have these disorders usually end up taking drugs that work as appetite suppressants, allowing them to remain thin, sometimes unhealthily so.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

In a person with PTSD, their brain produces fewer endorphins than a healthy individual’s. To make up for this lack of endorphins, a person may seek out alcohol or drugs to medicate themselves. Unfortunately, the most significant percentage of sufferers of this disease are retired soldiers and veterans. Substance abuse is rampant in those communities and may be found alongside their PTSD, which might have resulted from their service.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD has been popularized in media, but the actual mental disorder can be debilitating. A person suffering from OCD may have bouts of anxiety interspersed with manic activity. There are too many variations of this disorder to note here. Individuals suffering from OCD seek out drugs to give them more control over their actions.


Schizophrenia usually presents as hallucinations or delusions about a person’s location or surroundings. Unfortunately, because schizophrenia presents the same way as side effects of some withdrawal symptoms, it can be challenging to figure out the difference between them.

It’s widely accepted in the medical community that substance use can lead to mental disorders and vice versa. However, it’s still unclear as to how considerable the overlap is. These mental conditions are only a cross-section of some of the issues that may show up when dealing with co-occurring problems. On a case-by-case basis, several other factors influence both of these issues.

The most common dual diagnosis combinations that patients present with include:

  • Cocaine addiction alongside major depression or anxiety
  • Alcohol addiction and panic disorder
  • Alcoholism coupled with schizophrenia and drug obsession
  • Opioids combined with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Heroin addiction and depression

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Self-Medication and Addiction

We live in a society where getting one’s hands-on drugs or alcohol isn’t tricky. Most individuals who take drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism can end up abusing the substance and falling into dependence and addiction without realizing their lives’ downward trend. Because it’s so simple to find substances to abuse, the urge to self-medicate to avoid the effects of mental disorders usually leads to dual diagnosis as a result. Among the most common methods of self-medication that happen regularly are:

  • Using alcohol as a “social lubricant” to make it easier to deal with social situations.
  • Heading off a panic attack using benzodiazepines. These drugs include Xanax and Valium and can be helpful as medication, but taking them pre-emptively can lead to substance-abuse-type behavior.
  • Numbing emotional pain with marijuana. Occasionally, an individual may want to reduce the amount of emotional anguish they feel. Doing so may lead them to start using marijuana extensively.
  • Using cocaine as a motivator. Many high-energy executives tend to rely on stimulants such as cocaine to motivate them to perform tasks and get through their day. Overuse typically leads to addiction.

Consuming these drugs starts the slow progress towards dependence and addiction. What might seem like a commonly accepted practice within a particular community might only come to light after someone falls out of the community and displays symptoms of addiction. The reason addiction creeps up on a person has to do with drug tolerance. Chemical substances usually affect the brain through interaction with receptor sites. The chemicals usually compete with the brain’s natural chemicals at these sites. Over time, the brain builds tolerance to a substance, meaning that a person needs to take more of it to get the same effect. This tolerance eventually rewires the person’s brain, making it dependent on the substance. The best way to avoid addiction is to face problems without self-medication. It may mean seeing a professional counselor, but it’s far better than the alternative.

Physical Effects of Dual Diagnosis

Since each pair or combination of disorders interact differently with specific substances, the physical effects of conditions will vary. Each disorder may lead to more compounded impacts on the other. A person who is dealing with substance abuse may neglect their personal care, leading to disease occurrence. Physical fallout from substance use disorder may be as simple as a lowered immune response to common diseases. However, these problems become more pronounced as the potency and addictiveness of the drug increases. Some individuals may decide to share needles to keep down the cost of using the substance, leading to disorders like Hepatitis B or C and even HIV/AIDS. Dual diagnosis invariably leads a person to addiction faster than if they didn’t have to deal with the mental condition.

Finding a Treatment Center for Dual Diagnosis Management

Treatment and detox centers for dual diagnosis in California may be found throughout the state. However, choosing the suitable facility that fits your needs may be more of a challenge. Each case is unique, and the approach must be tailored to have any chance of success. Luckily, Circle of Hope provides professional advice and care coming from leaders in the industry. Medical staff and therapists are on hand to help with long-term dual diagnosis treatment. Overcoming addiction isn’t impossible, With the proper support, you can leave your old life behind. Give us a call today to learn more.

1 (818) 392-5259