What Are the Best Treatments for Dual Diagnosis?

depressed woman indoors at home, mental health and alcohol addiction concept

If you or a loved one have ever struggled with addiction and mental illness simultaneously, you may have heard of the term ‘dual diagnosis’.

Some might be surprised to learn just how common dual diagnosis is within the global population.

For example, recent studies show that approximately 17 million US adult citizens are currently struggling with a substance use disorder and mental illness at the same time.

This article explores dual diagnosis, the risk factors, and effective treatments that can help.

What is meant by dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a mental health condition in which an individual is simultaneously diagnosed with a mental illness and a substance use disorder.

An example of dual diagnosis might be when someone suffers from depression and alcohol use disorder at the same time.

Another example might be when a person simultaneously has bipolar disorder and marijuana addiction.

Other terms for dual diagnosis

Various other terms for dual diagnosis exist. 

For example, standard clinical terms you are likely to come across when seeking addiction and mental health treatment include the following:

  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Concurrent disorders
  • Co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder
  • Comorbidity

These terms can be confusing but all point to the same diagnosis.

Mental health problems and addiction

Addiction is a profoundly complex disease. Researchers have long studied why some people become addicted while others don’t. Although, even the most advanced research cannot pin addiction on just one cause or risk factor.

Many situations, circumstances and variables can lead a person to addiction.

However, we know that mental illness can increase a person’s risk of becoming addicted in the future.

For instance, some research shows those diagnosed with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are at increased risk for substance use disorder at some stage.

In addition, one study showed that over half of those who experienced severe mental health issues also struggled with drug use.

Risk factors and causes

Before exploring effective treatments for dual diagnosis, let’s look at some risk factors and causes that may contribute to or lead people to develop the condition. 

This might give you a clearer understanding of the various dual-diagnosis treatment options and why they are essential to recovery. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that around half of those with substance use disorder also suffer from a mental illness (and vice versa).

man looking down at a pill on his hand

Some common risk factors for dual diagnosis include the following:

  • Chronic or persistent stress.
  • Psychological trauma.
  • Genetics – those with a family history of substance abuse and mental health disorders are at increased risk of developing these conditions at some stage.
  • Environmental factors, including your upbringing, relationships and work.
  • Early use – some studies show the age a person engages in substance abuse can profoundly affect their brain development, leading to poor choices throughout their life. In addition, another study showed that young adults aged 18–24 were more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction and drug abuse.

Other factors

Various studies have shown how specific mental health conditions can change brain function, making some people more prone to alcohol and drug use disorders.

People with mental health disorders like trauma, anxiety, and depression may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate in an attempt to ease symptoms and numb feelings. 

When they consume specific substances to temporarily feel better, the reward centres in the brain become activated, making it difficult for them to stop despite harmful consequences.

However, this process can also work the other way around.

For example, substance use and addiction can contribute to the development of a mental health disorder. Certain substances can alter a person’s brain functioning in ways that make them more likely to develop a mental health condition. The longer they use these substances, the greater the risk of developing mental health issues.

Drug abuse and brain changes

According to NIDA, “when an individual initially decides to take drugs, their decision is usually voluntary; however, repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs”. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, Understanding Drug Use and Addiction Drug Facts.)

Furthermore, drug addiction is often called a “relapsing” disease since the brain changes that frequently occur are long-lasting and persistent. NIDA also reports that people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for relapse, even after many years of abstinence. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, Understanding Drug Use and Addiction Drug Facts.)

Choosing a dual diagnosis treatment program

narcissistic traits talk therapy

Fortunately, various treatment options can help those with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

Seeking support and help from an experienced professional is the first step to getting the treatment you need and deserve.

In addition, choosing a treatment program that suits you and your needs will give you the best chance at lasting sobriety and wellness.

Fortunately, most rehabilitation centres nowadays provide individualised treatment for those with concurrent disorders. 

This treatment addresses a person’s unique needs, mental health and addiction challenges and recovery goals, making it a practical, comprehensive therapy for people in this client group.

Treatment for dual diagnosis

Seeking treatment for dual diagnosis can be complicated; however, you must choose a treatment program that aligns with your values, preferences and recovery goals. 

Only you will know which treatment feels right for you.

However, it might help to understand what the most effective dual diagnosis programs involve and what to expect from your treatment plan.

While there is no hard and fast rule to recovery, the most effective dual diagnosis programs require an integrated addiction and mental health treatment approach.

Below are some treatment approaches that are typically included in a dual diagnosis recovery program:

  • Medical detoxification – the first step in any addiction treatment is usually medical detox. This treatment helps rid your body of toxic substances under the guidance and supervision of an experienced professional. Medical detox often occurs in an inpatient setting where healthcare professionals can track and monitor your progress.
  • Residential treatment – people seeking treatment for dual diagnosis may benefit from staying in an inpatient facility, where they can receive higher levels of intense therapy, monitoring and mental health care and support.
  • Family support – is integral to addiction and mental health recovery. These programs allow people to continue receiving support and care from their loved ones throughout their treatment. In our experience, involving family members in an individual’s treatment plan helps aid recovery, providing each person with the tools and resources to support each other while building awareness and understanding around addiction and the various challenges that those with substance use disorder and other addictions face.
substance abuse in families whole family
  • Group therapy – allows those in recovery to talk about their addiction and mental health challenges with people who share similar problems – group therapy is usually facilitated by one or more trained professionals who treat several clients simultaneously.
  • Medication – depending on the type of addiction and mental health issues experienced, a person may be prescribed medication as part of their treatment. Medication can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce drug and alcohol cravings. In addition, certain medications can also help with mental health symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy – an effective treatment for dual diagnosis is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT helps clients explore and change any maladaptive thoughts and behaviours that may have led to substance abuse in the first place. This treatment teaches individuals alternative coping strategies, helping them to make healthier choices and avoid relapse.
  • Trauma-informed treatment – studies show a strong correlation between trauma and addiction. Chronic stress and trauma can lead to a dysregulated nervous system, making specific individuals more susceptible to addiction.
  • Individual therapy – involves creating a personalised treatment plan that addresses each person’s unique needs, goals, and preferences rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all solution to addiction and mental health recovery. Individualised treatment can effectively treat various addiction and mental health disorders, including behavioural addiction, substance use disorder, depression, anxiety and personality disorders.
  • Aftercare and support – aftercare and support programs are essential to any addiction and mental health recovery plan. Whether recovering from a mental health disorder, substance addiction or dual diagnosis, these programs are designed to help you navigate life after treatment. Aftercare programs can vary but typically involve any interventions, activities and resources a person may need to cope once they complete inpatient treatment at a rehab facility.

Researchers note that adopting an integrated approach to dual diagnosis is essential because a lack of improvement in either disorder can lead to a relapse of both conditions. (What Is a Dual Diagnosis? Verywell mind, Sanjana Gupta, August 25, 2022.)

Dual diagnosis treatment at Centres for Health and Healing

Talk therapy helps treating depression

Centres for Health and Healing provide a personalised approach to treating addiction and mental health issues.

Our experienced team of multidisciplinary professionals use a trauma-informed approach to dual diagnosis, treating the ‘whole’ person, not just their symptoms.

No one thing causes addiction, and no single treatment can cure it. 

Therefore, our treatment programs combine traditional methods with ancient wisdom to ensure deep transformational healing and lasting recovery for all our clients.

In addition, our tailored, individualised treatment program provides a holistic approach to addiction and mental health recovery that encourages you to cultivate a renewed sense of purpose and belonging while maintaining lasting sobriety and wellness.

If you or someone you know are struggling with addiction or mental health issues, contact our friendly treatment centre in Ontario for further advice and support.

You do not need to suffer in silence. Our team is here and ready to guide you through every recovery step.

Additional resources

  1. What Is a Dual Diagnosis? Verywell mind, Sanjana Gupta, August 25, 2022.
  2. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction Drug Facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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