dual diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis: What is it? Am I a Candidate for Treatment?

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

As the name suggests, dual diagnosis describes patients that have been diagnosed with two different disorders: one being a mental disorder, like depression or bipolar disorder, and the other, a substance abuse problem, which could be alcohol or drugs. Since most people with a mental disorder can have quite easy access to both, it is not unlikely for them to develop a dependence on these substances.

More often than not, a lot of people will actually try to find comfort or a way to numb the pain by drinking or using drugs, so those two walk hand in hand quite frequently. In fact, a national survey done in 2014 revealed that 7.9 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from both a psychiatric disorder and an addictive disorder. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 6 out of 10 addicts also have another disorder – that is a 60% chance that an addict is a dual-diagnosis worthy patient.

It is still not possible to say why mental disorders and addictions tend to coincide more often than not, but there are many theories and studies to try to understand dual-diagnosis patients. It seems as though one affects or triggers the other, no matter which one is apparent first. While children and teenagers with psychological disorders (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are considered at higher risk of becoming addicted than other children, it seems drug abuse alone can also accelerate the course of mental illnesses. Either can come first when it comes to dual-diagnosis addicts.


Dual-diagnosis patients can be diagnosed with a number of different “combinations” of disorders. Therefore, symptoms will vary a lot from person to person, depending on which substance they are addicted to and which mental disorder they have. While keeping in mind that a lot of symptoms from withdrawal are also common in mental disorders (anxiety, depression, and even hallucinations, for instance), some symptoms or signs to look out for are:

  • Going overboard when consuming drugs and/or alcohol or doing it too often
  • Putting themselves in risky or dangerous situations (especially worse if doing so by impulse)
  • Changing behaviors and routines drastically
  • Noticing symptoms unrelated to the withdrawal of alcohol or illegal substances alone
  • Symptoms that won’t go away after getting treatment for addiction
  • Social isolation or generally avoiding events that used to bring pleasure
  • Family history of either one of the conditions (substance abuse and/or mental illness)
  • Difficulty accepting, starting, or following instructions for treatment
  • Not managing to do daily tasks like proper personal hygiene or groceries
  • Be aware of a change in thought processes: if they become too incoherent, disillusioned, or too dark, bordering or becoming suicidal

It is because so many of the symptoms tend to overlap between disorders that addicts need to receive a proper diagnosis in order to know how to proceed when seeking the right treatment for them. Each disorder requires its own kind of treatment, and not just because they are separate illnesses. One of the main problems is that they affect each other mutually, meaning that if one is not treated correctly, it could bring on symptoms of the other – especially in the case of not treating the mental illness, as it could be the root of the consumption of substances.

Besides keeping an eye on the symptoms listed, in order for you to know whether you might be a dual-diagnosis patient, you might need to visit different types of specialists. While drug or alcohol abuse can be considered a mental illness in and of itself, it requires different approaches to treatment than, say, borderline disorders. For instance, while anxiety can be a symptom of withdrawal, chronic anxiety is different, more persistent, and not just related to substance abuse, so it needs to be treated accordingly.

Treatment and Prevention

Dual-diagnosis cases can be treated in many different ways, and while the diagnoses are an obvious factor to be considered when being treated, other aspects of the patient will dictate which treatment option would be best for them. Age, family history, drug intolerance, type of substance, frequency and amount of use, drugs previously used in treatments – all of this must be taken into consideration.

One of the methods commonly used along with other programs is behavioral therapy. Most of them focus on changing habits and frequent thought processes that might bring a patient to harmful behavior as well. While that alone cannot be the only method applied to help dual-diagnosis patients, it has proven quite effective when included in programs. Additionally, some of the other techniques used are detoxification (when needed), group therapy, and any medical supervision recommended.

Prevention is also possible, and even from an early age. Receiving early diagnosis of a psychiatric illness such as ADHD, anxiety, or depression can help not just to get treated for the disorder, but it can actually prevent the development of a substance abuse problem, as it is almost impossible to prevent exposure. Early exposure, in fact, has proven to be a trigger, so being mindful and careful of that might also lower the risks of someone becoming addicted.

You Can Get The Help You Need With Us

At Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare, dual-diagnosis patients can count with all the help they need when getting rid of their substance abuse problem for good. While it might seem like so much work right now, as you have to deal with two different issues, it is achievable. If you have tried methods before and they failed, this does not mean you are hopeless. Relapse is quite common, especially in dual-diagnosis cases, but they are not a sign of weakness – they just mean you need to keep trying.

We will be more than happy to meet with you and find out what your needs are, so we can work on a plan that will work for you. We offer outpatient programs that are essential for anyone who might need to keep on with their routines, no matter the reason. While dual-diagnosis patients need to look out for two different illnesses and seem to have to do double the work, we also offer a special Recover Strong program, which will additionally help with self-image and self-esteem while also providing a way to improve your social life – one less thing to worry about.

So whether you know this program interests you or you just want to hear more about the benefits we offer, contact us today. Visit our website for all the needed contact information. We are here to help: no matter how many hoops you need to go through, we are here to see you get to where you need to be on the trip to a healthier you.