Approximately 15% of the world’s population is afflicted by either a mental health condition,a substance use disorder, or both.

If that isn’t startling enough, it’s generally accepted that the numbers are underreported. When it comes to having both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder, the problem is more complicated.

Dual diagnosis describes co-curring mental health and substance use disorders. A new insight for the fields of mental health and recovery, these can be difficult to understand.

But there are solutions. Part of that is knowing what you’re dealing with, and the second part is to understand your options. Keep reading to find out all that and more.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is also known as co-curring disorders, comorbidity, and comorbid disorders. But the most commonly used term for describing a patient that has both a substance use disorder and a separate mental health condition is a dual diagnosis.

In a dual diagnosis patient, either the substance use disorder or mental illness can develop first.It’s very common for someone with a mental illness to turn to a substance as a form of self-medicating. Often, they find relief for their mental health symptoms in the substance they use.

But a dual diagnosis isn’t always associated with the use of a substance. People with mental health disorders might also turn to things like gambling, food, sex, exercising, and even shopping as a way to cope with their condition.

Common Mental Health Conditions of Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis isn’t as rare as one might think. In fact, 7.9 million Americans are classified as having a dual diagnosis.

Some mental health conditions are more common than others in dual diagnosis patients. The more common mental health condition associated with dual diagnosis are:

  • Depression. Substances can mask symptoms such as hopelessness, loneliness, sadness, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Bipolar disorder. One of the most common disorders associated with alcohol abuse, bipolar patients use substances differently depending on their cycle. It’s especially dangerous during a manic phase which already makes a patient prone to reckless and careless behavior.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Substances are appealing to OCD patients because it distracts them from the sometimes debilitating symptoms of their disease.
  • Anxiety. Substances may help anxiety sufferers by allowing them to relax and place their focus on something other than what’s causing their anxiety.

Among the general population in the US, depression affects 300 million people, anxiety as many as 40 million, and bipolar disorder nearly 6 million. With this kind of prevalence in the American population, it’s important to know the symptoms of a dual diagnosis.

Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis

Diagnosing a co-curring disorder requires professional medical intervention. But recognizing the symptoms can help you get help for yourself or your loved one sooner.

The symptoms of a substance use disorder include:

  • social isolation from friends and family
  • engaging in risky behavior
  • sudden and unexplained changes in behavior
  • loss of control over using substances
  • a craving to use substances
  • developing tolerance and experiencing physical withdrawal when the substance isn’t taken in the same amounts
  • needing a substance to function
  • using a substance despite the negative and harmful consequences

But because a dual diagnosis suggests the presence of a mental health condition, you should know how to spot those symptoms as well. They include:

  • confused thinking
  • problems with focus and upholding responsibilities
  • extreme changes in mood and/or behavior
  • isolation from friends and family
  • suicidal thoughts

Patients with a dual diagnosis, especially one that involves bipolar disorder or depression, have a high likelihood of developing suicidal thoughts and ideation. This is why getting immediate help upon discovery of the problem is so important.

How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated?

Dual diagnosis requires special treatment. Unfortunately, many traditional rehab facilities aren’t equipped to properly care for a dual diagnosis patient. But a treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment will have the resources needed to adequately care for you or your loved one.

Because the conditions and substances involved vary greatly between one patient and another, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for dual diagnosis. But there is a general process that most patients will benefit from knowing more about. Keep reading to learn more about what you can expect.


If the substance use disorder has to do with a drug instead of something like sex or gambling, the patient will have to detoxfrom the substance. This is a process that can last as long as 7 days, and in many cases, requires 24/7 monitoring by trained medical staff. This allows the patient to safely and effectively get the substance out of their system so they can begin the real work of recovery.


Too many treatment facilities focus on substance use disorder and not the underlying mental health condition. That’s why facilities specializing in dual diagnosis perform an initial assessment that evaluates both aspects.

A trained mental health professional will work with the patient to evaluate and understand their mental health. They can then offer a personalized program that addresses both substance use and mental illness.


While medications aren’t typically used after the detoxification part of drug rehab, they’re often used in dual diagnosis situations. This is because many of the mental illnesses involved in dual diagnosis require medication to stabilize the disease and begin recovery with clarity and balance.

Therapy and Counseling

Therapy provides coping skills and the tools needed to better deal with the symptoms ofmental illness. Armed with more understanding of their illness and better ways to deal with it, they’re less likely to turn to substances to alleviate their symptoms.

But therapy is also an important part of recovering from substance use. It gives a patient insight into their self-destructive behavior and helps change their thought patterns.

Getting Help With a Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis requires a lot more than traditional rehab can give. Because the symptoms of the mental health condition are often worsened by the substance use disorder, recovery takes a lot of time, patience, and understanding. But with the right treatment program, you or your loved one can begin leading a normal life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a dual diagnosis, they need professional help. Contact us today to learn more about how we can be the help you need.

Jump to a Section

Call (855) 425-4846