Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Suffering from a substance abuse disorder or mental health condition can make life extremely difficult, and accessing the support and treatments that you deserve can feel like an ongoing battle. 

For those who are trying to balance both of these issues at once, life can feel like an ongoing uphill battle – but that doesn’t mean that help is out of reach altogether.

Understanding the nature and challenges of dual diagnosis treatment is important, and can help both patients, their families, and caregivers to obtain a clearer overall view and understanding of the wider situation.

What Is A Dual Diagnosis?

As the name suggests, a dual diagnosis refers to a specific method of treatment that sees an individual diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression, in addition to a substance use disorder, such as drug addiction or alcoholism.

Receiving a diagnosis in both of these areas can make the rehabilitation process more complex and elaborate, and traditionally results in a higher risk of negative health effects for the patient if the two elements are not treated together.

Previously, researchers and medical experts were under the mistaken belief that the two aspects of a dual diagnosis could be treated as separate entities. 

This was the position held throughout the 1990s, but there is a growing body of research that proves that this approach tends to lead to less desirable outcomes and a lower chance of overall recovery for the patient. 

In modern medicine and treatment plans, there is a real focus on treating both aspects of a dual diagnosis at once to improve the likely outcomes for patients. Though this is the medically desired approach, there are real-world obstacles that can get in the way.

In many cases, a combination of substance abuse issues and mental health issues can make it harder to access treatment and support, with patients being denied access to mental health treatment or programs until they have kicked an addiction and achieved sobriety. 

In addition, individuals suffering from addiction are often enrolled in treatment plans that punish them for their addiction, rather than working to offer treatment and support for the mental illness or the substance abuse.

Anxiety and depression tend to be more commonplace in individuals with a dual diagnosis, and this can make things harder.

According to the U.S. The Office of Applied Studies, or the ESA, 2002 saw just 12 percent of people in receipt of a dual diagnosis with a substance disorder and a mental illness receive treatment for both of their illnesses, rather than the two issues being treated separately. 

It’s much more difficult for someone who has a dual diagnosis to recover from a mental illness than it is for someone who just has a mental illness. 

However, you should know that there are therapies and treatment options available on the market created specifically to help you feel better during recovery and make it through rehab successfully.

You need to have a qualified, caring therapeutic team to help you through your recovery journey.

Common Mental Health Issues and Addiction

Addiction often co-occurs with certain mental health conditions and, in many cases these mental health conditions can be the underlying cause of your addiction.

That’s why it’s so important to never ignore the signs of a mental health condition when it comes to someone’s long-term addiction treatment plan – the two typically go hand in hand.

Common mental health disorders associated with substance abuse include the following:

Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

People who suffer from ADHD may be more likely to abuse substances to cope with their symptoms than people without ADHD. Many people are prescribed stimulants to treat their ADHD. These drugs can be habit-forming and lead to a toxic substance abuse pattern in the long term.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder often coexists with drug and alcohol abuse and is present in around half of all cases.

As with any other condition, it can be tempting for people suffering from bipolar to self-medicate by using alcohol or drugs, as these can offer temporary relief from the realities of illness. 

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by mood swings and as a result, those who suffer from bipolar disorder may experience periods of extreme highs and lows. These periods can be triggered by stress, anxiety, or depression. 

For some people, these ups and downs can last for years at a time; for others, however, these episodes only occur intermittently.

Studies have shown that addictions and BPD often co-occur, and research shows that over two-thirds of those individuals suffering from BPD have abused substances such as drugs and alcohol in order to cope at least once in their lives.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are extremely common among people struggling with a dual diagnosis.

People with anxiety disorders will often struggle to regulate their emotions and emotions tend to become overwhelming when faced with emotional triggers such as physical pain, stress, or loneliness. 

This makes it very hard for anxious people to cope with real-life situations and they find themselves seeking out substances to deal with their feelings.

Because substance use reduces levels of anxiety, they turn to drugs and alcohol to manage their emotions, and this can become a vicious circle that it is hard to escape from. Substance use is also known to trigger or worsen anxiety in people who already struggle with the condition.


Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions among people with a dual diagnosis, and studies show that 90% of people who suffer from a dual diagnosis report having suffered from depression. 

Depression is an incredibly difficult condition to live with on a daily basis; it is known for being instrumental in causing feelings of hopelessness, dejection, sadness, irritability, panic attacks, and/or despair.

In many cases, untreated depression has been linked to suicide attempts among those who suffer from substance abuse problems. 

A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that depressed patients who used antidepressants were twice as likely to make suicidal attempts than those who didn’t take antidepressant medication, and there is a suggestion that this is linked to the increased risk of addiction, which can be a common issue that arises alongside antidepressants.

Other studies have suggested that treating depression as a side effect of opioid therapy isn’t always effective, and instead suggests that prescribing antidepressant medications should be done alongside counseling. 

In 2015, it was estimated that around 50 million Americans had experienced a major depressive episode within the past year, so if you are feeling down, you are far from alone – it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether treatment would help you feel better.

Treatment For Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis programs aim to treat both the substance abuse problem and also the underlying cause of the person’s symptoms.

Some therapies involve working with both the patient and their family members to look out for signs of trouble, working through issues, and putting coping methods in place to increase the chance of long-term success.

Mental Health Clinics

Many people with a dual diagnosis may require more intensive treatment in a specialist setting. Many clinics specialize in dual diagnosis, and these provide high-quality support and services tailored to people suffering from a dual disorder. 

The majority of these clinics don’t just focus solely on addiction recovery but also consider the other important aspects of living with a dual diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.

Addiction Counseling

Addiction counseling is not necessarily just about dealing with drug/alcohol issues but can help individuals deal with any other underlying psychological issues that caused them to develop addictions in the first place. 

For example, some sufferers from social anxiety disorder have turned to food as a way to self-medicate and others may have developed an eating disorder due to struggling with issues of perfectionism or placing high standards on themselves and others.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

One of the most popular treatments available today for those with dual disorders involves CBT. This type of treatment focuses on identifying patterns of behavior and looking out for triggers to keep compulsive behaviors at bay. 

It is often said to be particularly helpful for those who suffer from impulse control issues (e.g., impulsive shopping), where they might experience urges to buy something without thinking through the consequences first. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps addicts become aware of certain triggers that contribute to addictive behaviors and works by teaching ways to cope with the situations to reduce their urge to act compulsively.


Psychotherapists are capable of helping clients come to terms with what’s going on inside their heads to break the cycle of relapsing into addictive behaviors. 

They will usually work face-to-face with clients, going through key thoughts and emotions together to create new patterns of behavior, and provide support while patients overcome the habits and issues that led them into substance abuse in the first place. 

Psychotherapy is useful for anyone who has suffered from psychological distress before since it helps rewire the brain back to functioning normally again and break negative and destructive patterns of behavior.


The majority of drugs used to treat alcohol and drug dependency aren’t actually addictive, meaning they won’t make you dependent on them – this can make them extremely useful when it comes to tackling patterns of addition and breaking the cycle of craving and using.

Medications like buprenorphine are known as ‘partial agonists’ because they only activate a part of the pleasure center in the brain, which means they’re a safer alternative than full-on opiate-based prescription painkillers – these come with a much higher risk level in terms of relapse. 

These types of pills are prescribed for patients during withdrawal periods after detox when the body is still undergoing significant internal changes following sobriety, and also help prevent relapse by reducing cravings.

There are many different medications for treating addiction: these include methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and acamprosate, all of which target specific symptoms. 

Most doctors agree that abstinence from the addictive substance should always be maintained once someone is no longer physically addicted to substances, so medication to help with this remains an important component of recovery. 

There are, however, cases where treatment with medication is required. Some people choose to use medication rather than go through rehab, either as a last resort when all else has failed or as a precautionary measure against a potential future relapse.


Other techniques utilized to aid recovery include mindfulness meditation, yoga, and physical exercise. Meditation aims to teach the user to observe external distractions and focus more intently on their breathing and mental states. 

It teaches individuals how to slow down in life and notice the process of breathing deeply, connecting to mind and body, and then learning to relax and let go of thoughts that may have caused stress. Yoga has been shown to improve health, mood, and self-confidence.

Physical activity also benefits the body and the brain. A recent study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology suggests that regular physical exercise enhances cognitive performance on tasks such as spatial memory, attentional control, and executive function. 

The same study found that high levels of physical activity were associated with better functional connectivity between the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex – two areas of the brain linked with working memory and inhibitory control. 

Additionally, exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which could enhance its capacity to absorb glucose (which aids concentration) and produce growth factors that boost neuron development.

As well as being good for your overall well-being, staying active can be a great way to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, natural chemicals that relieve pain and induce euphoria, making the experience less intense. 

Also, staying consistently busy reduces feelings of loneliness and prevents boredom, both of which can be triggers to return to using the source of your addiction.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment ProgramWhat You Can Do To Help Yourself If You Have Dual Disorders

So what exactly do you need to do to get yourself healthy? Unfortunately, as we’ve already discussed, it does mean working a little bit harder than the average addict. However, the following advice will hopefully give you some ideas as to how you could start making improvements:

Look After Your Mental Wellbeing

In order to fully recover from dual disorders, it is important to prioritize investing plenty of time, energy, and effort into taking care of your mental wellbeing.

That means focusing on spending quality time with friends and loved ones, getting regular exercise, going for walks, and staying clear of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. 

These things all help to improve moods and create positive feelings, but when used excessively they can become detrimental and even lead to other addictions!

Don’t Be Overly Critical Of Yourself

One thing that is incredibly important during times of struggle is simply to forgive yourself for not recovering 100%.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for perfection, but just remember that it’s far too easy to beat yourself up for every single mistake you make, no matter how small – this can build a negative thought pattern, and increase your risk of spiraling back downhill.

Instead try finding new ways of encouraging yourself along the way, like setting goals and celebrating each step forward.

It might sound cheesy, but sometimes simply appreciating your progress isn’t enough; it can be really tempting to view your recovery as something ‘out there’ rather than an in-built part of you. 

By accepting who you are today, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable with yourself, which will only help your recovery.

Focus On What Will Make A Difference To Your Recovery Today

In addition to looking after your own mental health, it’s equally important that you focus on achieving long-term goals. For example, if you’re struggling to kick off your detox program or abstain from substances, think about all the things you’d love to achieve once you’re clean and sober. 

Perhaps one day you’d like to volunteer at a local charity; maybe you dream of having a successful career or starting a family of your own; maybe you’d love to travel around the world.

Whatever it is, make sure to keep these aspirations close by, because giving your thoughts space to grow will help you stay focused and motivated.

Once you have those goals firmly implanted in mind, break them down into smaller goals – for example, writing down your biggest dreams and then trying to accomplish one goal over the next few months.

You may find that once you’ve reached a certain milestone, it becomes easier to reach out again and set another goal. 

Alternatively, you may choose to reward your success with one luxury item per year until you’ve achieved all your goals. 

Whichever tactic works best for you, the important thing is to stay committed to making sure you never lose sight of where you want to go; this will give you the necessary motivation to continue pushing through tough moments and ensure your recovery remains strong.

Talk With Someone Who Is Truly Empathetic Toward Your Needs

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious by your surroundings, don’t hesitate to talk with someone. 

It might seem simple, but actually reaching out to someone who understands what you’re going through can make such a real difference to your overall well-being, especially if they encourage you to keep asking for support.

This could be a friend or relative, a professional counselor at your treatment center, or a counselor online.

If talking with someone feels too challenging, at least take time to breathe deeply, take some deep breaths, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you do.

These strategies may allow you to remain calm while also reminding you of why you need to continue moving forward.

Don’t Forget To Take Care Of Yourself!

Taking good care of your physical body goes hand in hand with taking good care of your mental wellbeing. Eating foods that nourish your body, getting plenty of sleep, maintaining

regular exercise, managing stress effectively, and keeping a positive outlook on life are all vital steps toward a healthy recovery. 

Remember: living a healthier lifestyle means being proactive instead of reactive.

Final Thoughts

Receiving a dual diagnosis can be tricky, and there are a number of obstacles that may block your path to recovery. 

The most important thing to remember, however, is that there is plenty of help and support available, and that understanding about the importance of treating dual diagnosis is constantly growing and evolving. 

There is a road to recovery, and taking the first step by asking for help is a great way to get your feet on this path.



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