Why a dual-diagnostic approach is so effective when treating addiction

Dual Diagnosis as an effective approach when treating addiction

It is widely recognized within the mental health community that mental illness and addiction are not mutually exclusive diseases. Very often, those with substance use disorders or alcohol use disorders also suffer from other co-occurring disorders such as:

The importance of dual-diagnosis

The World Health Organization (WHO) established specific definitions of dual diagnosis, all of which illustrate the importance of a continuum of care between drug abuse and mental illness or mental disorder.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse and mental health

Currently, there is a broad spectrum of addiction treatment centers that are fully equipped to treat substance use disorder patients with mental disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Experts at the World Health Organization explain that treatment facilities that can facilitate a dual diagnosis to clients can also provide an individualized treatment plan.

What is dual diagnosis treatment?

If a person has severe mental health problems and problematic substance misuse, they get referred to as having a dual diagnosis. All this when both issues get diagnosed.

Integrated issues

Some studies have contested the accuracy of dual diagnosis and believe that many service users and addicts have more than just two problems.

Mental health disorder

More than one mental health disorder

An individual may have issues with depression, alcohol abuse, drugs or alcohol combined, and several mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Substance abuse and mental health conditions get identified with dual diagnoses, and both mental health disorders must get treated.

The best chance of recovery

Research shows that people with a dual diagnosis have the best chance of addiction and mental health recovery if their mental health treatment plan includes a tailored, holistic approach to care. All this may involve:

  • Specialists in substance abuse and mental health working together to ensure that both mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment needs are met.
  • Tailored therapy that allows clients to make their own choices work best.
  • Psychotherapy plays an integral part in drug abuse and mental disorder treatment; medication may also get required.
  • Family intervention plays a vital role in dual diagnosis recovery – all household members such as friends and family members should take part in the treatment of their loved one.


A dual diagnosis comes with its own set of challenges.  Dealing with a mental health problem such as depression or borderline personality disorder is difficult enough, and a drug addiction problem only adds to the complexities of the healing work that needs to get done.

However, with proper rehab treatment and therapeutic care – it is possible for those with dual diagnosis, with all the treatments and therapies on today’s market, to feel better and sustain long-term recovery.

Symptoms that someone may be struggling in dual diagnosis

People with a suspected dual diagnosis must get evaluated by an addiction specialist or a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist to get a dual diagnosis and obtain an accurate medical prescription.

Health issues such as a dual diagnosis mustn’t get dismissed because of your profession, whether you’re a teacher, an accountant or a nurse – if you suspect that something is wrong, you must seek out an effective treatment plan to overcome your abuse problems.


Several warning signs that may illustrate that a person with a dual-diagnosis is struggling include:

  • Difficulty in maintaining good grades at school or work
  • A period of sleeping during the day is followed by staying up late at night
  • Feeling regretful about your drug abuse (or substance use disorder) habits
  • Thinking that lying or stealing will resolve behaviours that are hurtful to yourself and others
  • Continuously searching for a higher high by increasing the dosage of alcohol use or drugs or alcohol combined
  • Giving up drugs, alcohol and gambling only to relapse
  • When trying to quit substance use disorders, an addict quits by reducing their drug use or alcohol intake

Other signs of health issues

Emotionally or psychologically disturbed people may exhibit additional signs of a dual diagnosis struggle, including:

  • Believing in things that aren’t real or true (hallucinations or experiencing sensory events that other people aren’t experiencing – often referred to as delusions)
  • After several weeks, a person may feel despair, hopelessness and a sense of worthlessness
  • Becoming isolated from friends and family members
  • Incapable of holding down a job, relationship, maintaining a home or friendships because of mood swings and behavioural problems
  • Energy levels and moods drastically changing from one extreme to the other
  • Turning to substance abuse and alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress

Treatment programs

Research into the field of substance abuse problems and those experiencing a mental health issue (or a variety of mental illness) explain that the best course of treatment for a dual diagnosis is to consult an addiction specialist with a psychiatric background.

Substance abuse treatment

Within a dual diagnosis drug rehabilitation center, addicts get assessed by evaluation specialists and counsellors who assess their mental health and substance use disorders before an individualized treatment program gets created.

Mental health treatment options

Treatment options

Almost all dual diagnosis patients require a combination of treatments and health care.

People suffering from addiction and mental health issues such as those with a dual diagnosis must consider entering an integrated treatment process to stay sober.

Severe mental health disorder

Twenty-four-hour residential treatment programs are incredibly beneficial to those with severe mental health disorders/dual diagnosis and significant substance abuse problems.

Dual diagnosis outpatients

Outpatient rehabilitation programs are more suitable for those with less severe co-occurring disorders (or an isolated co-occurring disorder), such as substance abuse and other mental health issues.

Carrying on with everyday life

In addition, outpatients get to maintain their routine such as going to work, attending school and looking after a loved one or other family members while receiving treatment and therapy for their mental health conditions.

Support groups are also influential within a treatment program.  

A patient gets to speak with people facing similar challenges and those who have also been diagnosed with a dual diagnosis.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that people who get addicted to drugs and have issues with substance abuse are twice as likely to suffer from low mood and anxiety disorders.

According to the Institute on Drug Abuse, people with severe mental illness and mental disorders are four times more likely to become heavy alcohol users. They are also up to five times more likely to be heavy smokers.

Looking ahead

With the correct type of psychiatric treatment and support, it is possible to go back to living a life free from the clutches of substance abuse and mental illness.

People with dual diagnosis must seek to understand their addiction, mental health and substance abuse because it is an integral part of recovery. It is also crucial that family members and friends are supportive and treat people with compassion and understanding.

Those with friends and family who want to understand or need help concerning a dual diagnosis could benefit from attending support groups, family counselling, 12 -step meetings and peer support groups.

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