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The disease of addiction is a commonly found mental health disorder among people in the United States. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 7 people will struggle with a substance abuse disorder, according to the former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Perhaps even more precarious than those numbers are the number of people struggling with a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring substance abuse disorder and mental health disorder.

People who have a substance addiction and a mental health disorder at the same time or sequentially are eligible for dual diagnosis recovery treatment. Treating both conditions concurrently gives people with co-occurring disorders the best chance of recovering from harmful, addictive behaviors and living a life free of drugs and alcohol.

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It is not uncommon for people who abuse drugs and alcohol to also have a mental disorder. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.1 million people (41.2 percent) among 12.6 million adults with past-year Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) also had Any Mental Illness (AMI) in the past year in the year 2015.

Mental Health Disorders Include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating)
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Many people who abuse substances do so to ease or manage their mental health symptoms themselves without outside help, a practice known as self-medicating.

When substances are used in this way, it can be challenging to discern the relationship between the addiction and the mental health disorder. If one or both disorders aren’t diagnosed properly, they both can worsen and put the person at risk of relapse or worse.

Mental health disorders can cause an individual to struggle in nearly every aspect of their lives. Social situations, maintaining employment, and completing even menial tasks can present a unique challenge to an individual suffering from mental illness. This is due to the multitude of sometimes severe symptoms presented by a mental illness.

Mental Illness Symptoms Include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Excessive tension or worrying
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sharp increases in energy
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
  • Racing thoughts or rapid speech
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Numbness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impaired judgment or impulsivity
  • Restlessness

Mental illness and addiction often go hand-in-hand. It’s difficult to talk about one without the other, even though it is not always clear which one came first or if one causes the other. The National Alliance on Mental Illness takes the position that the category of dual diagnosis is broad and that the range of situations and conditions that can fall into it vary widely. Also, the complex relationship between the disorders is still being studied. So far, why dual diagnosis happens, or the order in which it happens, is unknown.  

The presence of both disorders, a condition known as comorbidity, means both must be treated at the same time for treatment to be effective. Due to the unique relationship between the disorders, without a synchronised treatment plan, the individual will merely cycle back and forth between the diagnoses without the ability to overcome either. Since both illnesses directly correlate and impact one another, it’s crucial for an addict or alcoholic with a dual diagnosis to receive treatment in tandem in order to attain recovery.  



How Dual Diagnosis Treatment Differs From Standard Rehab

Drug treatment centers that specialize in dual diagnosis care practice the philosophy that recovery begins in the mind. They use an integrated approach to substance addiction and mental illness that keeps in mind the unique needs of people with co-occurring disorders, which differ from those who have only one condition. Standard drug rehabilitation programs may not work for a person with dual diagnosis.

Since more than half of individuals who suffer with addiction also struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder, offering dual diagnosis treatment is crucial. Finding a treatment center that offers dual diagnosis treatment is important to ensuring your success in recovery and treatment should you receive a dual diagnosis.

Treatment for dual diagnosis patients is different from those without a dual diagnosis. Different therapy methods and techniques are employed in order to ensure the success of these unique clients.

What’s more is that these methods and techniques vary in effectiveness depending on several crucial points:

  • What kind of substances are being abused?
  • What is the mental health diagnosis?
  • How long has the individual been self medicating?

Since the therapy techniques used for treating depression differ from those used in treating anxiety, each treatment plan for a dual diagnosis patient is as unique as the individual his or herself. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment in dual diagnosis programs; however, some therapy methods are commonly seen in dual diagnosis treatment.

Types of Dual Diagnosis Therapy Techniques

In the field of psychology, there are seemingly endless therapy techniques available to try. While different therapies may work for some and not for others, there are certain techniques that have proven to be far more successful among dual diagnosis patients than others. A quality treatment facility will create a custom treatment plan tailored to fit the client’s individual needs, but as a dual diagnosis patient, you may likely encounter some of these types of therapies during your treatment.


One of the more popular approaches seen in psychology today, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT has proven to be effective in dual diagnosis treatment. Since CBT teaches patients how to both unlearn preconceived notions about life and how to implement better decision-making techniques, it is particularly useful for dual diagnosis clients. Patients take a more hands on role in their goal-setting and accomplishments throughout treatment that act as a more proactive course of action as opposed to mere talk therapy.

Since CBT offers homework and is a far more involved therapy, clients will not only focus on recovery while therapy is in session. CBT offers an entirely new way to live life for these clients, making recovery a round the clock endeavor.

Clients will also take a more in depth look at their mental health disorders. By asking important questions pertaining to their disorders such as why they may think or act in a certain way, the client will develop a more rational point of view surrounding their thoughts and behaviors.


Many dual diagnosis patients have found continued success from alternative therapies. Since these therapies are geared toward reducing stress, it can successfully impact both addiction and mental health disorders. Stress is a huge factor in mental health conditions since it both increases frequency and intensity of symptoms associated with these illnesses. By decreasing the level of stress encountered by clients, these conditions may be brought to a management level of severity.

Some of these stress-reducing alternative therapies may include:

  • Breathing Exercises
  • Guided Imagery
  • Self-hypnosis
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Progressive Relaxation

Since it’s vital to use these techniques correctly, learning these techniques from trained individuals is necessary. Incorrect implementation of these relaxation methods may actually worsen stress, creating the opposite effect on the patient and therefor worsening the symptoms associated with their dual diagnosis. Always be sure to find a qualified therapist or instructor who can teach you to use these techniques correctly.


Is Inpatient or Outpatient Better for Dual Diagnosis?

Working with mental health care professionals who understand the nuances of comorbidity helps ensure people get the right level of psychiatric or psychological care they need. Before dual diagnosis is determined, mental health professionals must first evaluate the client’s condition to determine if dual diagnosis treatment is the next step. If it is, then specific interventions and treatment approaches are developed so that recovery gets underway as soon as possible. Treatment can take place in a residential facility or an outpatient basis.

Receiving dual diagnosis residential treatment may be more effective; however, as a result of the round-the-clock care offered at these facilities. Since outpatient clients return to alternative housing at the end of therapy sessions, additional support cannot be offered throughout the course of treatment after business hours.

At residential programs, consistent support is available no matter the time of day or night. Since therapy sessions for dual diagnosis treatment can be rigorous, it may be better suited for dual diagnosis patients to attend an inpatient residential facility. More hands on interventions and approaches may be utilized in the dual diagnosis residential programs as well.

These interventions and approaches may include medications given to ease symptoms of mental health disorders and drug cravings that emerge as people are weaned off their drug of choice. Having medical staff consistently monitoring and dispensing these medications may also foster an environment for greater success in treatment as well.

Behavioral therapies teach dual-diagnosed clients how to change their behavior as it relates to substance abuse. These therapies may be used, some along with medications, to help improve a client’s condition. It is important that each illness is treated individually but together in the same period. A higher level of care may be the difference between relapse and recovery for dual diagnosis patients.

Top Reasons to consider dual-diagnosis treatment:


Dual diagnosis drug treatment programs integrate methods to treat both mental health and substance abuse challenges according to your specific needs, allowing you to simultaneously recover physically and mentally. This combined treatment method is best at growing you as a person.


Mental health is not something to take lightly, which is why dual diagnosis treatment programs surround you with trained medical staff. With a support circle of psychiatric professionals, clinical nurses, and peer support groups, you can recover at a healthy pace.


People can go their whole lives without truly understanding the mental condition they have. Dual diagnosis centers will be able to properly diagnose the mental disorder you have while also educating you about how to treat it, cope with it, and avoid further substance abuse.


Learning healthy coping skills to minimize substance abuse, deal with stress, and build strong relationships is crucial to maintaining a sober lifestyle. These techniques will reduce the mental dependence on substances and help you achieve mental and social stability.

Is Dual-Diagnosis Treatment Right for You?

If you are suffering from addiction and mental illness, you will not have to sacrifice time to focus on one or the other if you enter a dual diagnosis treatment center. If you have a previous history of mental illness or are suspecting your addiction goes beyond a physical dependence, a dual diagnosis drug treatment center can address your needs.

Making sure your mental health is optimal should always remain a priority, whether or not you have an addiction, and it is imperative that any mental illnesses be addressed when discussing substance abuse. The choice to take certain substances may go beyond a physical addiction and/or environmental situations and instead rely on mental dependency.

Dual diagnosis treatment centers will pinpoint the reason behind your addiction with effective medical treatment, a nurturing counseling environment, and psychiatric knowledge and methods that will enable you to move on to the next chapter of your life.

If you do not know the exact nature of your mental illness, a supportive clinical staff at one of our facilities will be able to diagnose you accordingly.


Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Delphi Behavioral Health Group has several addiction treatment facilities across the U.S. that can help you or your loved one start the journey to freedom from addiction today. Feel free to call our 24-hour helpline at (844) 899-5777 and talk with one of our addiction specialists to learn more about our drug treatment options for people who have co-occurring disorders, our residential rehab facilities, and how to afford quality addiction treatment.