Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis: Mental Health & Substance Use Disorders

Table of Contents

When someone has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, we say they have a dual diagnosis. This means they’re dealing with two problems at the same time. It can be very tough, but there are ways to help.

Dual diagnosis is more common than you might think. In fact, millions of people are dealing with it. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

When treating dual diagnosis, it’s important to address both the mental health condition and the substance use at the same time. This approach is called integrated treatment, and it’s been proven to work best.

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders and Substance Abuse

Sometimes, a person might struggle with not just one but two health problems at the same time. This can happen when someone has a mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression, and also has a problem with substance abuse. These conditions, when they happen together, are known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses.

When you have a dual diagnosis, each disorder may make the symptoms of the other worse. For example, a person with a mental health disorder might use drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings, leading to substance abuse. On the other hand, substance abuse can also cause mental health problems to worsen or even trigger mental illness in some people. This is why it’s so important for people with co-occurring disorders to seek help from a dual-diagnosis treatment center, where professionals can treat both conditions together.

Common Mental Health Disorders in Dual Diagnosis

There are many different mental health disorders that may co-occur with substance abuse. Some of the most common ones include:

  1. Depression, Anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder: These mental health conditions often lead to feelings of sadness, worry, or extreme mood swings. To try and manage these feelings, some people might engage in risky behaviors, like using drugs or alcohol, which may lead to a dual diagnosis.

  2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This is a condition that happens after a person experiences a traumatic event. They might have flashbacks or nightmares about the event and could turn to substances to try and forget or cope with their feelings.

  3. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Eating Disorders: People with BPD often have intense mood swings, while eating disorders involve unhealthy relationships with food. Both of these disorders can involve unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse.

Substance Use Disorders in Dual Diagnosis

  1. Alcohol Addiction: This happens when a person drinks so much alcohol so often that their body starts to need it to function normally. If there’s also a mental health problem involved, it may make the addiction even more difficult to overcome.

  2. Drug Abuse and Dependency: Using drugs can become a problem when a person starts to depend on them. Not only can drug abuse increase the risk of developing a mental health disorder, but having a mental health disorder can also make a person more likely to abuse drugs.

  3. Risk Factors for Dual Diagnosis: There are many things that may increase a person’s chances of developing a dual diagnosis. These include having a family history of mental health disorders or substance abuse, experiencing a traumatic event, or having limited access to mental health care. Understanding these risk factors may help in identifying the need for a dual diagnosis treatment program early on.

It’s essential to remember that a dual diagnosis can happen to anyone. The important thing is to recognize the signs and seek help from a dual-diagnosis treatment center. The professionals there can provide the help needed to manage these co-occurring disorders and start the recovery process.

The Need for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The Need for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Challenges of Co-Occurring Disorders

Having both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder – a situation known as dual diagnosis – may lead to significant challenges in a person’s life. These may affect various areas, including:

Education: Co-occurring disorders may make it harder to focus on schoolwork or maintain good grades.

Employment: Difficulty in concentration, absenteeism, and a decrease in performance are common issues in the workplace.

Personal Relationships: These disorders may strain relationships with family and friends.

Physical Health: Substance abuse and some mental health conditions may lead to physical health issues like heart disease, liver damage, or increased risk of accidents.

Consequences of Untreated Dual Diagnosis

Leaving a dual diagnosis untreated may have severe consequences. Some potential outcomes may include:

Unemployment: It might become challenging to keep a job due to issues related to dual diagnosis.

Relationship Problems: Relationships may become strained, leading to isolation.

Health Deterioration: Without treatment, the physical health of the person could worsen.

Homelessness or Legal Issues: In severe cases, untreated dual diagnosis might lead to homelessness or involvement with the criminal justice system.

Benefits of Seeking Treatment

The path to overcoming a dual diagnosis might be challenging, but it’s definitely worth it. Seeking help from a dual-diagnosis treatment program may result in the following:

Improved Mental Health and Overall Well-being: Therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma therapy, along with proper medication management, may help people manage mental health disorders and substance use.

Reduction of Relapse Risk: Treatment may equip individuals with the skills and strategies needed to prevent a return to substance use or a relapse of mental health conditions.

Enhanced Quality of Life: With professional help from a dual diagnosis treatment center, people may regain control of their lives. They can mend their relationships, do well at work or school, and participate in activities they enjoy.

Thus, dual diagnosis treatment isn’t just about managing symptoms but also about restoring an individual’s ability to function and enjoy life. The journey might be tough, but with the right help from professionals and support from loved ones, recovery is within reach.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options

Evaluation and Assessment

As a critical first step in the journey to recovery, a comprehensive evaluation and assessment are necessary. These processes aim to:

  • Identify the specific mental health disorder(s) present, ranging from mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders to more severe mental illnesses.

  • Assess the extent and severity of substance use, be it alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or both.

  • Gauge the individual’s readiness for change and identify potential barriers to treatment.

Integrated Treatment Approaches

There are a variety of integrated treatment approaches available, tailored to the unique needs of each person with a dual diagnosis. They include:

Inpatient Dual Diagnosis Treatment Programs: The individual receives intensive, round-the-clock medical care and therapy in a treatment center for a period. It can be an ideal setting to manage withdrawal symptoms and provide a supportive environment for recovery.

Outpatient Dual Diagnosis Treatment Programs: Outpatient programs offer flexibility as the individual can continue to live at home while visiting the treatment center for therapy sessions and medication management.

Residential Dual Diagnosis Treatment Centers: These provide long-term, residential care where individuals learn skills to manage their disorders. They usually involve a structured routine, including various therapeutic interventions and life skills training.

Therapeutic Interventions for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

To successfully treat dual diagnosis, a combination of various therapeutic interventions can be employed:

Medication Management: Psychiatrists can prescribe medications to help manage symptoms of mental health conditions or to ease withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process.

Behavioral Therapies: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are commonly used to help individuals change harmful behavior patterns and develop healthier coping strategies.

Group Therapy and Support Groups: Group settings provide a platform for individuals to share experiences and gain emotional support from others who are also dealing with dual diagnoses.

Family Therapy: Involving the family in the treatment process may improve relationships and provide an additional layer of support. It may help families understand the nature of dual diagnosis and equip them with strategies to support their loved ones.

Holistic and Complementary Approaches: Incorporating practices like mindfulness, yoga, nutrition, and exercise may help manage symptoms, reduce stress, and improve overall wellness.

By combining these elements in a personalized treatment plan, a dual diagnosis treatment program may provide a comprehensive approach to address mental health and substance use disorders, enhancing the prospects for a successful recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Process

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Process

Detoxification and Withdrawal Management

The initial step in the dual diagnosis treatment process typically involves halting substance use, a process known as detoxification. Managed in a dedicated dual diagnosis treatment center, this is a critical stage of treatment because it directly addresses the physical dependence on the substance. This phase involves:

Cessation of Substance Use: The patient stops using the drug or alcohol, which may trigger withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual’s substance abuse history and other personal factors.

Medical Management of Withdrawal Symptoms: The withdrawal process is medically supervised to ensure patient safety. The medical team, consisting of professionals adept in treating co-occurring disorders, monitors the patient’s physical and mental health, managing withdrawal symptoms and providing necessary care.

Addressing Co-Occurring Mental Disorders and Substance Use

After successful detoxification, the focus shifts to treating the mental health disorder and addressing the problematic substance use:

Integrated Approach: Here, mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental illnesses, are addressed alongside substance use disorder. The integrated approach aims to treat co-occurring disorders simultaneously, which has been shown to improve overall treatment outcomes.

Therapy and Counseling: Depending on the person’s specific mental health issues and substance abuse patterns, various therapeutic interventions are applied. These therapies help individuals understand the connection between their substance use and mental health issues, equipping them with coping mechanisms to maintain recovery.

Developing Coping Strategies and Relapse Prevention Skills

A crucial part of the dual diagnosis treatment process is empowering individuals with skills to manage stress and avoid substance use:

Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral healthcare methods, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are often used to help individuals develop effective coping strategies. These techniques help individuals recognize triggers, change unhelpful thinking patterns, and adopt healthier behaviors.

Relapse Prevention Training: Relapse prevention skills are essential for long-term recovery. These skills may include recognizing warning signs of potential relapse, creating a strong support system, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and utilizing coping strategies during high-risk situations.

Continued Care and Aftercare Planning

Continuing care post-treatment is vital for maintaining the gains made during the treatment program and ensuring long-term recovery:

Aftercare Planning: Before completing the treatment program, a detailed aftercare plan is devised, which may include ongoing therapy sessions, group meetings, check-ins with treatment professionals, and other forms of support to help the individual stay on track.

Long-term Support: Engaging with community resources such as the Mental Health Services Administration, American Addiction Centers, or local mental health services may provide long-term support and care. This might involve ongoing individual or group therapy, family therapy, medication management, and other services designed to support recovery.

By understanding and utilizing this comprehensive treatment process, individuals with dual diagnoses may overcome their challenges and achieve sustained recovery.

Finding Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Finding Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Identifying the most suitable treatment provider is a crucial step in addressing dual-diagnosis disorders. Organizations such as the American Addiction Centers can significantly aid in this endeavor, providing valuable resources and professional guidance.

Various models of treatment centers exist, each tailored to serve the unique needs of individuals dealing with co-occurring disorders:

  • Inpatient Treatment Centers: These facilities provide a residential setting where individuals can fully focus on recovery under the continuous care of medical professionals. Inpatient treatment is particularly beneficial for those with severe substance abuse and mental health issues.

  • Outpatient Treatment Centers: As a more flexible alternative, outpatient centers allow individuals to continue living at home while attending scheduled treatment sessions, providing a balance between receiving essential care and fulfilling daily responsibilities.

Each dual-diagnosis treatment program presents a distinct set of services. Some might concentrate on providing a broad range of therapeutic modalities, while others may emphasize the power of peer support through well-structured group sessions.

While the cost of dual diagnosis treatment can initially seem daunting, numerous treatment centers accept private health insurance, substantially reducing the financial burden. Additionally, some centers might provide alternative financing options, offering a more private and convenient solution to manage the expense of treatment.

Further resources, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse, offer additional guidance on substance abuse and mental illness treatment options, as well as providing updated information on the best practices in dual diagnosis rehab.

Remember, the goal is to find a treatment center and identify the dual diagnosis treatment program that best fits the individual’s unique needs, leading to a more effective recovery process. The right support and treatment can pave the way toward a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Overcoming Dual Diagnosis Stigma

Overcoming Dual Diagnosis Stigma

Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

The presence of stigma often creates barriers for individuals seeking help for dual-diagnosis disorders. This stigma is largely fueled by a lack of understanding and the proliferation of misconceptions regarding these co-occurring disorders. Engaging in comprehensive educational efforts can challenge and dismantle these misconceptions, leading to more empathetic and effective support systems.

Several myths frequently associated with dual diagnosis include notions such as addiction being a choice, mental illness being a sign of weakness, or the flawed belief that dual diagnosis is rare.

In reality, data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse highlight that millions of individuals struggle with co-occurring disorders. A critical first step in dispelling these myths is promoting the understanding that addiction is a complex brain disorder, not a moral failing, and mental illnesses are legitimate, pervasive health conditions that require appropriate treatment.

Promoting Mental Health Awareness and Education

Promoting mental health awareness and comprehensive education about dual diagnosis is paramount in challenging stigma. By fostering an environment of open conversation, we can encourage empathy, reduce fear or misunderstanding, and encourage more people to seek the help they need without fear of judgment.

An array of avenues exists for advancing this cause:

  • Public Campaigns: National Institute-backed campaigns or events by organizations such as American Addiction Centers can disseminate essential information about dual diagnosis and treatment options, helping to normalize the conversation around these issues.

  • School and Workplace Programs: Incorporating mental health and substance abuse education into school curriculums and workplace training can improve early detection and intervention.

  • Support Groups: These provide a safe space for individuals dealing with dual diagnosis to share experiences and learn from each other, facilitating mutual understanding and acceptance.

  • Media Representation: Accurate and sensitive representation of dual diagnosis in media can help reshape societal views, replacing harmful stereotypes with more realistic portrayals.

As a society, we are collectively responsible for understanding and addressing the struggles of those with a dual-diagnosis disorder. Only by dismantling stigma can we truly ensure that individuals receive the empathy, support, and treatment services they need for recovery.


Dual diagnosis—a condition involving co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders—presents unique challenges and demands for effective treatment. Understanding these complexities is critical in effectively managing these conditions, reducing the risk of relapse, and enhancing the overall quality of life for the affected individuals. Comprehensive and integrated treatment options, such as those offered by dual diagnosis treatment centers, are essential to concurrently tackle both substance use and mental health conditions.

Treatment typically begins with a thorough assessment, followed by a structured process that includes detoxification, management of mental health disorders, and the development of coping strategies to prevent relapse. Different therapeutic interventions and treatment modalities, from inpatient care to outpatient programs, are available, each tailored to meet individual needs and circumstances. Moreover, continued care and aftercare planning ensure long-term recovery and support.

Choosing the right treatment program can be challenging, but resources like the American Addiction Centers provide valuable guidance. While cost can be a hurdle, many treatment centers accept health insurance, and additional financial assistance may also be available.

However, the journey toward recovery isn’t solely about finding the right medical treatment. A significant component lies in confronting the societal stigma associated with dual diagnosis. Through dispelling myths, raising mental health awareness, and promoting education, we can create a society more receptive and supportive of those battling dual diagnosis. This is not an individual battle; it’s a collective endeavor, one that involves every one of us. Only by understanding and acknowledging the realities of dual diagnosis can we hope to foster a society where seeking help is met with support, understanding, and compassion.

Take the First Step Towards Recovery with NuView Treatment Center

If you or a loved one is battling a dual diagnosis, know that you’re not alone. At NuView Treatment Center, we understand the intricacies of treating co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. We’re dedicated to providing comprehensive, individualized treatment programs that address the unique needs of each person we serve.

Our team of skilled professionals is committed to guiding you through every stage of recovery, from the initial evaluation and detoxification to managing co-occurring disorders and teaching coping strategies, all the way to aftercare planning. We’re here to support you in your journey toward a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Don’t let stigma or misconceptions hold you back from seeking the help you need. At NuView, we’re dispelling myths and fostering an environment of understanding and acceptance.

Take the first step towards overcoming dual diagnosis today. Reach out to NuView Treatment Center at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page to discover how our tailored treatment programs can help you regain control of your life. Your journey to recovery starts here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A co-occurring disorder, also known as dual diagnosis, refers to the simultaneous presence of a mental illness and a substance use disorder. It can be complex to treat because both conditions interact with each other, often exacerbating the symptoms and complications of each individual disorder.

Therapeutic interventions for dual diagnosis treatment typically include a combination of medication management and various forms of therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), family therapy, and group therapy are often integral parts of a dual diagnosis program. Holistic therapies such as mindfulness training, yoga, and art therapy may also be included to promote overall well-being.

While addiction treatment programs primarily focus on helping individuals overcome their substance abuse, dual diagnosis rehab is a more comprehensive approach that simultaneously treats substance abuse and mental illness. This form of treatment recognizes the interconnection between these disorders and works to address the root causes of each to promote long-term recovery.

A dual-diagnosis treatment center is equipped to handle the complexities of co-occurring disorders. In addition to substance abuse treatment, these centers provide therapy and interventions for a variety of mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They often employ a multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction counselors.

In a dual diagnosis program, you should expect a comprehensive approach to treatment that addresses both your substance use and mental health issues. The program typically begins with a thorough assessment to determine the best treatment plan for your unique needs. From there, you can expect individual therapy, group sessions, possibly family therapy, and a range of therapeutic interventions. The aim is to equip you with the tools and skills necessary for long-term recovery.

When looking for a dual diagnosis treatment center, consider factors like the qualifications of the staff, the range of services provided, and the center's approach to treatment. Reviews and testimonials can also provide insight into the experiences of past clients. Choosing a center that feels comfortable and suits your needs is important. Remember, reaching out for help is the first step to recovery.

“Co-Occurring Disorders.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Accessed 11 July 2023.

Woody, George. “The Challenge of Dual Diagnosis.” Alcohol health and research world vol. 20,2 (1996): 76-80.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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