Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Medication for Dual Diagnosis: Treating Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

Table of Contents

A “dual diagnosis” is when a person has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder at the same time. It’s like having two medical issues happening together, like diabetes and heart disease. This situation is quite common. For example, someone might have depression as well as a drug or alcohol addiction. They are two separate conditions, but they impact each other.

Substance abuse and mental health disorders have a complex relationship. Often, substance abuse can lead to mental health problems. Other times, people with mental health conditions may try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This can lead to a cycle of abuse and mental health problems that can be tough to break.

Just like for other medical conditions, medication can play a key role in treating dual diagnosis. Doctors can prescribe medications that help with mental health disorders, substance use disorders, or both. But medication isn’t a magic bullet. It’s most effective when combined with other treatments like counseling or support groups.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

When a person has a dual diagnosis, they have a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. This can be any combination of mental illnesses and drug or alcohol use. For example, a person might have bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder and opioid addiction.

Common Combinations of Mental Health Disorders and Substance Abuse

In a dual diagnosis, there can be many combinations of mental health conditions and substance abuse problems. These co-occurring disorders can manifest in numerous ways. Some of the most commonly seen pairings are:

  • Depression and Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol often seems like a temporary solution for people feeling the weight of depression, but over time it can actually worsen the symptoms of this mental health disorder.

  • Anxiety and Marijuana Use: People struggling with anxiety might turn to marijuana for its calming effects, but prolonged use can lead to dependency and exacerbate anxiety symptoms.

  • Schizophrenia and Drug Use: Individuals with schizophrenia might self-medicate with drugs to cope with their symptoms. This can make the psychiatric disorder more severe and harder to treat.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Opioid Abuse: Those suffering from PTSD may use opioids to numb their emotional pain, leading to a substance addiction over time.

  • Borderline Personality Disorder and Alcohol or Drug Use: People with this mental health issue often struggle with emotional regulation, leading them to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, creating a co-occurring disorder situation.

  • Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse: Those battling eating disorders may also misuse substances as a form of weight control or as a coping mechanism for emotional pain.

Treating a dual diagnosis can be tricky. The substance abuse can make the mental health problem worse, and vice versa. Also, the medications used to treat these disorders can interact, making the treatment more complicated. It’s essential to have a well-planned treatment program to manage these challenges.

Integrated Treatment Approaches for Dual Diagnosis

Integrated treatment is a unique approach to dual diagnosis, where a dedicated team of health professionals collaboratively works to address both the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder simultaneously. This team might include doctors who can prescribe medication, therapists offering specialized counseling, and support groups that provide much-needed emotional and social support.

The very first step in this approach is a comprehensive assessment. This crucial stage involves a detailed examination to identify all possible mental health disorders and substance use issues. A full assessment provides the treatment team with a complete understanding of the individual’s needs, which allows them to create a more effective and personalized treatment program.

A key aspect of this integrated treatment is collaborative care, a practice where mental health and substance abuse treatments are coordinated to work in sync. It’s not just about treating these disorders separately but ensuring they’re managed as interlinked aspects of a person’s health. This approach is akin to a well-coached team, where the coach ensures that all players are working together towards a common goal. In this case, the goal is comprehensive recovery and improved quality of life for the individual.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Substance Use Disorders

Medications offer a lifeline in the treatment of substance use disorders, playing a pivotal role in easing withdrawal symptoms, curbing cravings, and decreasing the risk of an overdose. Moreover, certain medications also treat mental health disorders, providing a comprehensive treatment approach particularly beneficial for individuals with a dual diagnosis.

For Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are commonly used. They function by reducing opioid cravings and easing withdrawal symptoms, helping individuals on their journey to recovery.

On the other hand, for those grappling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), medications like disulfiram, acamprosate, and naltrexone are often prescribed. These drugs work by lessening the desire to drink alcohol, helping maintain sobriety.

However, it’s important to note that while Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) offers significant benefits, such as improving survival rates, increasing patient retention in treatment programs, and reducing illicit opioid use, it is not without risks. Potential side effects and the chance of medication misuse are serious considerations. As such, healthcare providers must conduct continuous monitoring throughout the treatment process, ensuring that the use of these medications is safe and effective for each individual patient.

Medications for Common Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Antidepressants and Mood Stabilizers for Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Antidepressants can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. Mood stabilizers can help manage bipolar disorder, which includes extreme mood changes.

Anti-Anxiety Medications for Anxiety Disorders: Anti-anxiety medications can help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders. They work by slowing down the nervous system, which can help a person feel more relaxed and less anxious.

Antipsychotic Medications for Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders: Antipsychotic medications can help to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. They work by affecting the brain’s chemicals, which can help to reduce hallucinations and delusions.

Pharmacotherapy for Specific Substance Use Disorders

Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD): Medications for OUD include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These can help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): Medications for AUD include disulfiram, acamprosate, and naltrexone. These can help to reduce the desire to drink alcohol.

Medications for Stimulant Use Disorder and Other Substance Use Disorders: For stimulant use disorders, there are no approved medications yet. But, ongoing research is exploring potential treatments. Other substance use disorders, like tobacco use, can be treated with medications like nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion, and varenicline.

Addressing Medication Interactions and Side Effects

Different medications can interact with each other. That’s why it’s important to have a healthcare provider monitor all medications in a dual diagnosis.

All medications can have side effects. Some common side effects include sleep problems, weight changes, or feeling drowsy. If side effects become problematic, the healthcare provider might adjust the dose or try a different medication.

Taking medication as prescribed is key to effective treatment. Regular check-ins with the healthcare provider can help to monitor if the medication is working and if it’s being taken correctly.

Importance of Behavioral Therapies in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies for Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people learn new ways to cope with their mental health and substance use disorders. This can help to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Motivational Interviewing and Contingency Management in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Motivational interviewing can help people become more motivated to change their substance use. Contingency management uses rewards to encourage drug-free behavior.

Supportive Therapies and Relapse Prevention Strategies

Supportive therapies can include family therapy, group therapy, and more. Relapse prevention strategies can help a person learn how to avoid triggers and cope with cravings.

Multidisciplinary Approach to Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Collaborative Efforts Between Mental Health Professionals and Substance Abuse Counselors

For optimal dual diagnosis treatment, mental health professionals and substance abuse counselors often need to collaborate. Such a partnership may involve:

  • Psychologists or psychiatrists for diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.

  • Substance abuse counselors specialize in specific addictions and can address the unique challenges of dual diagnosis.

  • Regular interdisciplinary meetings to discuss patient progress and make necessary adjustments to treatment plans.

Involvement of Peer Support Specialists and Recovery Coaches

Peer support specialists and recovery coaches are integral to the treatment process. They offer:

  • Emotional support and encouragement from the perspective of having personally experienced similar struggles.

  • Practical advice based on their own recovery journey.

  • An additional layer of understanding and compassion may enhance patient comfort and engagement in treatment.

Engaging Family and Support Systems in the Treatment Process

Family members and other support systems play a crucial role in dual diagnosis treatment. Their involvement can encompass the following:

  • Emotional and social support to help the patient cope with the challenges of dual diagnosis.

  • Assistance with practical aspects, such as transportation for treatment appointments.

  • Participating in family therapy sessions to better understand the nature of dual diagnosis and learn how to best support their loved one.

Overcoming Treatment Barriers and Enhancing Recovery

Addressing Misconceptions and Promoting Acceptance

Stigma can prevent people from seeking dual diagnosis treatment. Therefore, efforts must be focused on:

  • Education programs that dispel misconceptions about mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

  • Community outreach initiatives to promote understanding and acceptance of dual diagnosis.

Access to Treatment

Navigating healthcare systems can be challenging. But, resources are available to help, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and local mental health clinics.

Promoting Long-Term Recovery and Sustaining Wellness in Dual Diagnosis

Sustaining long-term recovery from a dual diagnosis requires the following:

  • Ongoing treatment, possibly including medication, therapy, and regular check-ins with treatment providers.

  • Continued support from family, friends, and support groups.

  • Commitment to overall wellness, including balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.

Research and Advances in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Current Research and Evidence-Based Practices in Dual Diagnosis Treatment

To continually improve dual diagnosis treatment, current research efforts include:

  • Clinical trials for new medications that might be effective in dual diagnosis treatment.

  • Studies exploring the effectiveness of different types of therapies.

  • Evaluation of integrated treatment models to understand their impact on patient outcomes.

Innovations in Medication and Therapy Approaches for Co-Occurring Disorders

Innovations in treatment are crucial for improving outcomes in dual diagnosis. Current advancements may include:

  • Development of new medications to treat mental illnesses or substance use disorders.

  • Innovative therapy approaches, such as teletherapy or virtual reality therapy.

  • Use of mobile apps to support treatment adherence and recovery progress.

Promoting Integration of Research Findings into Clinical Practice

To ensure the most effective treatment:

  • Research findings should be quickly and efficiently integrated into clinical practice.

  • Clinicians should participate in ongoing education to stay up-to-date with the latest research.

  • Treatment plans should be regularly updated based on new research findings.


Medication plays a crucial role in dual diagnosis treatment. It can help to manage symptoms and promote recovery.

It’s important for individuals with a dual diagnosis to seek professional help and explore all treatment options, including medication.

Recovery from a dual diagnosis is possible. With integrated treatment, individuals can experience improved quality of life and hope for the future.

Start Your Journey to Recovery with NuView Treatment Center

If you or a loved one are dealing with a dual diagnosis, remember that you’re not alone and help is available. Navigating mental health disorders and substance use simultaneously can be complex, but with the right treatment and support, recovery is within reach.

At NuView Treatment Center, we are dedicated to offering comprehensive, personalized, and effective treatment for dual diagnosis. Our team of experienced professionals and compassionate staff understand the intricacies of treating co-occurring disorders. We prioritize integrated treatment that addresses both mental health and substance use disorders simultaneously, ensuring you receive the best care tailored to your needs.

Whether you’re just beginning to seek help or have been on the road to recovery before, NuView Treatment Center is here to guide you every step of the way. We offer a range of services, including medication-assisted treatment, various therapy modalities, and robust support systems, to ensure your journey to recovery is well-rounded and sustainable.

Reach out to us today and let NuView Treatment Center be your trusted partner in your journey to recovery and a healthier, happier life. Remember, it’s never too late to seek help; you don’t have to face this journey alone. We’re here for you, ready to help you conquer your dual diagnosis and reclaim your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Dual diagnosis, also referred to as co-occurring disorders, is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously. This complex issue requires an integrated approach to treatment.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, millions of Americans experience dual diagnoses. Mental health disorders and substance use disorders often co-occur because of common risk factors such as genetics, stress, and trauma.

Treatment for dual diagnosis involves addressing both the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder at the same time, preferably within the same treatment program. This can include a combination of therapies such as medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapy, and self-medication strategies.

Medication plays a key role in dual diagnosis treatment. It can help manage symptoms of mental illnesses, mood disorders, and substance abuse problems. Medications can also ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapses in substance use.

An integrated treatment approach aims to treat all disorders simultaneously rather than in isolation. This approach has been shown to be more effective in treating dual diagnoses, as it addresses the complexity of the person’s needs.

Support from family and friends can play a critical role in the recovery process. They can offer emotional support, help manage practical aspects like appointments and medication schedules, and provide understanding and acceptance to combat the stigma associated with dual diagnosis.

Resources like the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Mental Health America provide comprehensive information and support for individuals dealing with dual diagnoses. They provide educational materials, treatment guidance, and support networks to assist in the recovery journey.

Yes, individuals with a dual diagnosis can lead a healthy and fulfilling life with the right treatment program and ongoing support. It’s important to remember that recovery is a journey that involves overcoming challenges and sustaining wellness over the long term.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Yule, Amy M, and John F Kelly. “Integrating Treatment for Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions.” Alcohol research : current reviews vol. 40,1 arcr.v40.1.07. 1 Jan. 2019, doi:10.35946/arcr.v40.1.07

NHS UK. ‘Antidepressants.’ NHS, NHS,

Hoge EA, Bui E, Mete M, Dutton MA, Baker AW, Simon NM. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023;80(1):13–21. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679

Oh, Sanghoon et al. “Effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs in schizophrenia: a 10-year retrospective study in a Korean tertiary hospital.” NPJ schizophrenia vol. 6,1 32. 19 Nov. 2020, doi:10.1038/s41537-020-00122-3

Latest posts

Share this post


Leave a comment

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.

Read More

Addiction & Recovery

Did you know that we are always here for you 24/7?

You don't have to try to cope with life and addiction all on your own. Reach out to us now, no matter the time of day or night, even if you're not sure what you want to do yet and just need someone to listen.

We understand what you're going through and we can help you or a loved one survive addiction and find happiness in your life again.

Fill out the form below and we will contact you soon or call us any time at (323) 307-7997.
Contact Form - Blog

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction? We can help!

Our advisors are waiting for your call: (323) 307-7997

Ready to get Help?