What is dual-diagnosis?

A person with dual-diagnosis has a mental or mood disorder (anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, etc.) as well as an addictive disorder (alcohol addiction, drug addiction, etc.). Someone suffering from dual diagnosis has two separate co-occurring disorders. While separate disorders, they are related and can be complexly intertwined.

There is no standard path for arriving at a point of dual diagnosis. A mental or mood disorder can precede addictive behavior. Conversely, an addictive behavior can result in a mental or mood disorder. What is important about dual diagnosis is the realization that the presence of both conditions and forming an approach to treat both simultaneously.

Complexity and proper diagnosis

Co-occurring disorders often persist for long periods of time without the proper diagnosis. This is due to the high degree of complexity of symptoms as well as observed severity. Due to this complexity in diagnosis, it’s common for only one facet of the dual diagnosis to be treated. History has shown that isolating treatment for one facet of the dual diagnosis has less chance of long-term recovery and that the best treatment for dual diagnosis is an integrated approach.

Symptoms of dual diagnosis / co-occurring disorders

Symptoms vary greatly due to the possible combinations of substances and mental health conditions. There are no clear-cut observations that indicate the presence of co-occurring disorders with a high degree of accuracy. With that complexity in mind, the following symptoms or behaviors are often present:

  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Engaging in risky behavior to maintain the abusive or addictive habit
  • Extreme changes in behavior
  • High tolerance to substances being abused
  • Loss of control over the use of substances
  • Perceived inability to function without alcohol or drugs
  • Risky behavior when drunk or under the influence of drugs
  • Withdrawal from friends or family

Common dual diagnosis / co-occurring disorders

Those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, or an eating disorder, are also commonly found to face:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Self-medication or self-medicating

Self-medicating is the use of a substance, drugs, alcohol or food, for the purpose of cessation or escape from a mood disorder. One example of self-medication would be someone suffering from anxiety or depression and then drinks to excess or takes drugs to escape the pains of their anxiety or depression.

While the self-medicating behavior may provide some relief, that relief is only temporary. The danger for a self-medicating individual is that the underlying causes of the disorder are never treated. Further, as resistance to a substance builds and/or the seeking of longer periods of relief arise, the only path is to increase the frequency or potency of the abused substance.

Self-medicating behavior can mask the underlying complexities of a full, accurate dual-diagnosis, leaving the individual misdiagnosed, undiagnosed or untreated.

Dual-diagnosis treatment

Someone with a dual diagnosis of co-occurring disorders needs to seek treatment for both of the conditions they are experiencing. Obviously, when treating neither condition, either or both can progress. While treating one condition can yield some progress, it has been found to be far less effective.

At our treatment centers, we view each individual as unique. Similarly, the treatment our counselors and doctors recommend is also a unique, individualized approach. Successful treatment programs include a combination of some or all of the following approaches:

  1. Assessment
  2. Detox
  3. Residential inpatient / Outpatient / Intensive outpatient / Partial hospitalization
  4. Therapy
  5. Aftercare

Common questions about dual diagnosis

The best way we can answer the questions you may have for yourself or for a loved one is over the phone or in person. There are, however, some common questions about dual diagnosis we have answered below.

Are co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis the same thing?

The terms are often used interchangeably. Professionally, “co-occurring disorders” tend to be used more frequently. Dual diagnosis is the preceding term that was used before co-occurring disorder became more professionally accepted. Conversationally they are generally describing the same condition.

How common is dual-diagnosis?

It is more common than you might think. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) recently found that just under 8 million adults in the United States had co-occurring disorders.

Does separate or parallel treatment work for co-occurring disorders?

The short answer is no, or not nearly as well. Historically patients were treated by different care providers and/or during different time periods for the individual disorders they faced. In the 1980s integrated treatment programs arose based on evidence of the lack of effectiveness of such separate or parallel treatment. Those integrated approaches to dual diagnosis have been found to be far more effective, leading to the modern approaches used for co-occurring disorders today.

Start your recovery today

The first step in the journey is often the hardest. Trying to rise above a dual-diagnosis condition is something incredibly difficult to do alone. With the right environment, personalized treatment, and caring, professional staff, you can recover. If we can help you or someone you love who is struggling with a single addiction or dual diagnosis, please call us today. We’re available to take your call 24 hours a day.