Dual Diagnosis Defined

Dual diagnosis refers to a person who has developed an addiction alongside a mental health issue. These issues can differ from person to person. Someone may be depressed or anxious and struggle with alcohol consumption. Others might habitually use marijuana while suffering from schizophrenia. No matter the substance or mental illness, dual diagnosis is a serious issue, let’s discuss this further.

What is Dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis refers to a person with mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder (also referred to as manic depression) and alcohol or drug addiction. A double diagnosed patient has a mental illness and actively struggles with drug or alcohol abuse. Around half the people with mental disorders will also struggle with a substance abuse disorder or vice versa. 

It can be difficult to determine whether a substance abuse disorder or a mental illness occurs first. What we do know is that factors such as school, relationship problems, work, stress, etc. can all increase a person’s potential for mental illness or substance abuse development.

Dual diagnosis-related problems

Problems of mental health and substance abuse have a huge impact on a person’s life and their future. Other problems can evolve if these two problems occur together. For example:

  • Diagnostic difficulties and whether the problems the person experiences are mainly due to medicines, the mental illness or both
  • Problems involving a person and completing treatment for their issues
  • Recurrence in one condition will increase the risk of re-occurrence in the other condition
  • There could be a possibility that one condition could increase the risk of another or that a current issue with the other disorder might become more troublesome.
  • Interactions with alcohol and other drugs prescribed for a prescription may lead to unwanted adverse effects and the risk of overdose can rise. Medicines prescribed by the doctor may also lead to problems
  • High rates of poverty and social isolation, illness and physical health problems, attitude, abuse, antisocial behavior, and imprisonment have been shown in individuals with a dual diagnosis.
  • Dual diagnosis syndrome may affect the ability or capacity of a patient to treat their disease efficiently.

Who’s likely to be diagnosed with this problem?

Though anyone can suffer from mental health issues or substance abuse disorders, there are demographics who are particularly vulnerable to this:

Young adolescent

Adolescents are among some of the most vulnerable demographics to mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. Their age and lack of life experience make them more vulnerable during their physiological, cognitive, psychological and social development stages.

Indigenous People

Indigenous individuals have gone to show a higher risk for developing substance abuse disorders, making it that much more likely for them to develop mental illnesses alongside their addictions.

Old age

Due to aged anatomy and diminished social interaction, the likelihood of an elderly person to develop a mental illness is very high. This can make substance abuse much more likely if the person does not already have one or struggled with one in the past.

However, as we mentioned previously, there is no one demographic that is more vulnerable than the other, most anyone can struggle with addiction. 

What are the common mental health issues present in dual diagnosis?

There are several mental health and behavioral disorders that often co-exist with substance abuse disorders. Such changes are often the root cause of addiction. This is why, when it comes to a person’s long term addiction recovery program, it is crucial to never overlook the signs of mental health issues or behavioral issues. Here are some common mental health issues that occur in dual diagnosis.


Individuals with ADHD may be more likely to abuse drugs to cope with their symptoms. Most patients are prescribed medications to treat their ADHD, but these medications can become addictive if used even slightly outside of the prescribed amount.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to deal with. People who struggle with this illness often resort to self-medication in order to suppress their disorder. Drugs and alcohol provide temporary relief to people with bipolar disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Research has shown that addiction and BPD sometimes exist simultaneously. More than two-thirds of BPD people at some point in their lives resorted to substance abuse.


Annually, 1 out of every 10 people experiences anxiety/depression in the United States. Many people with depression try to medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs in an effort to provide temporary happiness or numbness from the stress around them. This only exacerbates the problem. For those with pre-existing depression, the crash after the high can be devastating.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common mental illness in the US, impacting 18% of the adult population. People with GAD may be more likely to use alcohol and drugs to treat their symptoms. People may also abuse benzodiazepines, which are highly addictive prescription medications used to treat anxiety disorders.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) induces other unhealthy obsessions. This disease has many variations.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

When a person develops depression, their brain produces fewer endorphins than normal, which makes them more likely to turn to alcohol or opioids for pleasure. According to the United States, The Department of Veteran Affairs reported repeated alcohol abuse in nearly 75 percent of soldiers and veterans suffering PTSD from their time in combat.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Mentally ill individuals were nearly twice as likely to die from a substance use problem for the general population. Likewise, people who often use drugs or alcohol can experience a co-occurring mental or psychological condition.

Several factors that overlap that exacerbate the mental health or the use of drugs:

Brain functions

Abuse of medications can cause psychological diseases. In some individuals, for instance, overuse of marijuana can cause psychosis, which is a severe mental disorder that causes people to lose touch with reality.


Genetic predisposition may increase their chances of having an addiction or psychological illness. Research shows the chromosomes responsible for 40-60% of a person’s vulnerability to dependence.

Exposure from the substance at an early age

People who use alcohol or drugs at an early age can develop a substance abuse disorder or possibly a psychological disorder. This is because the use of substances is more likely to damage the brain by adolescents and young adults than by old adults.

The best way to treat a dual diagnosis is in the organized and safe environment of a rehabilitation center. Moving for stationary treatment is suitable due to the high level of attention and care provided by patients. Going through rehabilitation and medical supervision is the best way for an individual with co-occurring additions and mental illnesses to treat their issues.