Dual Diagnosis

Understanding What Dual Diagnosis Is


Dual diagnosis is a term that was created to help describe someone with a mental health disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder. While the two co-occur, this does not necessarily mean that one caused the other. There are three prevailing theories on why the two might happen together. The first pertains to common risk factors that affect mental health disorders and substance use disorders. These risk factors may be genetic, stress, or trauma related.

The second theory considers how mental health disorders can contribute to the excessive use of drugs and alcohol. Commonly referred to as “self-medicating,” those living with a mental health disorder may use substances to cope with the stress brought on by their symptoms. The third theory examines the effects of substance use disorders and addiction on mental health. This theory believes that regular substance use can change chemical regulation within the brain, increasing the likelihood of developing a mental illness.


There are several answers to the question: what is dual diagnosis treatment?

The first step to determining what treatment will look like is to undergo a psychiatric evaluation or intake exam so that doctors may determine how someone’s substance abuse might affect their mental health and vice versa. Mental health disorders commonly associated with dual diagnosis are:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

As one might assume, each of these disorders is treated in a particular way. Treatment will, therefore, be highly dependent on one, the substance being abused, and two, the mental health disorder affecting the patient. Once doctors have identified the combination creating a dual diagnosis, they will begin working with patients to develop a treatment plan. Within treatment, patients are likely to undergo various individual and group therapy, addiction counseling, and group activities and exercises that strengthen non-drug-related coping mechanisms.