- PrintArticle Summary
- What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?
- The Basics of Dual Diagnosis Treatment
- Finding The Best Dual Diagnosis Treatment Centers
- Still Have Questions? Call the AAC helpline
Addiction is prescient and growing problem in the United States. Over 20 million people in the United States have struggled with a substance use disorder within the past year.1 In many situations, addiction doesn’t strike alone. Many struggling with addiction may also struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder. This is why dual diagnosis treatment is becoming more important when treating substance abuse disorder.
Research suggests that approximately 50% of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health disorder and vice versa.2 While many factors make it difficult to demonstrate that one causes the other, studies have shown that they often co-occur.
What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?
A general definition of co-occurring disorders is when a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder occur simultaneously. When multiple diagnoses exist at the same time, a person is said to have a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.
People may turn to substances to help you cope with a mental health disorder. If one experiences anxiety disorders, they may use sedatives such as alcohol and benzodiazepines to help calm down or relax. The same can be said for depression, ADHD, and other mental health disorders. A common co-occurring disorder is alcohol use disorder and depression. Studies have shown that experiencing depression can lead to alcohol use to help alleviate the depressive symptoms.3
From the alternative perspective, using large amounts of drugs and alcohol can contribute to the progression of mental health disorders. Research suggests that substance use can trigger or exacerbate underlying mental health disorders. This is because substance use can affect the same areas of the brain that are affected by mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or mood and anxiety disorders.4
It is crucial to treat both the mental health and the substance use disorder when in treatment. Failure to treat the mental health component in recovery can put you at greater risk of relapse because substance use may have been used as a way to cope in the past. Treatment that overlooks a person's mental health disorder fails to treat the whole person; it is rather treating only the behavior of substance use rather than the driving force behind the behavior.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
Studies have identified that people with certain mental health disorders have a greater likelihood of developing substance use disorders. These common mental health disorders that co-occur with substance use disorder include:2
- Bipolar disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
The same holds for people with serious mental illness (SMI). SMI disorders result in significant dysfunction in the past that limit and impair your ability to perform in major areas of your life. These disorders include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.2 The symptoms that result from having an SMI can be severe and lead to unhealthy thinking, behaving, and emotional processing. People often choose to use drugs or alcohol to help alleviate these symptoms. One in four people with an SMI also has a diagnosed substance use disorder.2
Dual Diagnosis and Vulnerable Populations
Dual diagnosis is when multiple diagnoses exist at the same time. Dual diagnosis treatment targets both mental illness and substance use disorders. As previously mentioned, it is difficult to say in some cases whether substance use causes the mental health disorder or if the mental health disorder causes the substance use. Common risk factors contribute to the development of both substance use disorders and mental health disorders. Genetic and environmental variables combine to determine your vulnerability or risk for the development of these disorders.
Scientists are finding that certain genes, when passed down through generations, can increase your risk of developing certain substance abuse and mental health disorders. For example, chronic use of marijuana during your teenage years can increase your risk of developing psychosis as an adult; this is especially true if you possess a particular gene.4
Environmental factors can include experiences of trauma, adverse early childhood experiences, and chronic stress. These factors increase your risk for developing both a mental health and substance abuse diagnosis.4 Populations that are frequently exposed to these environmental factors include emergency workers, first responders, military veterans, victims of domestic violence/abuse, and LGBTQ and other marginalized populations.
Specialty treatment centers address the unique needs of these vulnerable populations. As addiction research has increased, so has our understanding of what factors contribute to a successful recovery. That is why many substance abuse treatment centers, such as American Addiction Centers, offer dual diagnosis treatment as well as specialty treatment services for vulnerable populations.
The Basics of Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis rehab refers to the treatment of both mental health and substance abuse disorders. The best dual diagnosis treatment centers develop treatment plans that focus on all health concerns, not just substance abuse.
Treatment is not one-size-fits-all and it is not a quick fix. It is important to recognize that treatment is a process and takes time. Counseling is the most common form of treatment. Treatment is a progression, so an effective treatment plan will consistently be reviewed and modified according to your evolving needs.
Dual Diagnosis in Detox & Therapy
Dual diagnosis treatment is a process that can include several steps. For many people, detoxification is the initial step in the process. Detox is when drugs and alcohol are eliminated from the body.5 During the detoxification phase of treatment, addiction specialists, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals assist you in safely detoxing from substances in the most comfortable way possible.
Detoxification does not address the underlying causes of addiction, including psychological, behavioral, and social variables.5 Detox can be thought of as an intervention for your physical needs, but it does not address any mental health disorders.
It is important to make the detox facility aware of any medications you may be on for mental health to avoid any medication interactions. When you enter substance abuse treatment after a successful detox, you must enter a dual diagnosis rehab facility, especially if you are experiencing a mental health disorder.
Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Dual diagnosis treatment centers address your mental health issues in tandem with your substance abuse issues. An effective treatment plan incorporates all aspects of who you are and is tailored based on your specific needs. Addressing the root cause of your addiction can improve your odds of a lasting recovery. Therefore, any mental health disorders must be addressed in tandem with your substance use disorder.
Finding The Best Dual Diagnosis Treatment Centers
A large number of treatment providers offer dual diagnosis treatment in the United States. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is one of them. AAC is a leading provider of dual diagnosis treatment and operates 8 facilities across the nation in the following states:
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
Still Have Questions? Call the AAC helpline
At AAC, our goal is to help people access treatment. That means providing resources for people to find treatment even if one of our facilities is not the best fit. AAC can help connect people at any point in their recovery journey, whether that is during detox or at a later phase of the process. We operate a confidential 24/7 helpline that is dedicated to helping others access treatment.
Who You’ll Speak With
When you call our helpline, you’ll speak with one of our team members; we call them admissions navigators. Our navigators are compassionate, understanding, and helpful members of the AAC team. They’ll listen to your story and help you find a treatment option that works for you. When you are ready to call, we are available. We can be reached at 1-888-935-1318Who Answers?.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Find help: ATOD.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Common comorbidities with substance use disorders research project: Part 1- The connection between substance use disorders and mental illness.
- Kuria, M.W., Ndetei, D.M. & Kamau, J. (2012). The association between alcohol dependence and depression before and after treatment for alcohol dependence.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Common comorbidities with substance use disorders research project: Why is there comorbidity between substance use disorders and mental illnesses?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition).