What is Dual Diagnosis?

It’s common to develop addictions if you attempt to self-medicate to relieve mental or emotional distress, and substance use can be symptomatic of an underlying emotional imbalance. If you are suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues at the same time, you may receive a dual diagnosis for the coexisting conditions. To effectively treat this, also known as co-morbidity and co-occurring disorder, healthcare providers must address your addiction and psychological distress as interrelated issues.

What Are Some Dual Diagnosis Symptoms?

Since many different kinds of substance use and mental disorders exist, each condition must be identified appropriately to make a proper diagnosis. Doctors associate individual symptoms of substance abuse and mental disorders with the particular substances and characteristics of the underlying mental conditions. Dual diagnosis symptoms, such as anti-social behavior, can overlap, so it’s important to correctly associate each distress sign with its underlying cause.

Substance abusers may:

  • experience personality changes.
  • self-isolate from friends and family.
  • take unnecessary risks.
  • experience difficulty concentrating.
  • depend on taking substances to function.

People who suffer from mental health disorders may:

  • have difficulty socializing.
  • experience mood swings.
  • suffer from depression.
  • experience difficulty concentrating.
  • have difficulty functioning well at work or school.

What Challenges Do Dual Diagnosis Patients Face?

Understanding that addiction and mental distress can be intertwined can be challenging. Acknowledging that these conditions coexist is key to providing the holistic, specialized care you require as a dual diagnosed patient. Providers should be trained to treat your psychological disorders and addiction simultaneously and teach you to recognize how emotional imbalances contribute to your addiction.

It’s easy to become an addict by using substances to self-medicate without acknowledging, treating, or healing your emotional or psychological issues. Many patients will try to address their addiction and mental health issues separately. If you can stop using substances but still experience anxiety or distress, you may lose the motivation to stay sober or adopt maladaptive coping mechanisms. If you feel better after you stop using substances without gaining insight into the thought patterns and feelings that led you to abuse, you may be more likely to resume using substances recreationally. Effective dual diagnosis treatment When you have the tools to cope with your psychological triggers for substance use, you are less likely to relapse as you recover.

What Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options Are Commonly Prescribed?

Healthcare providers must carefully screen and evaluate patients to accurately diagnose co-occurring disorders and determine an appropriate course of action. Treatment may include detoxification, inpatient care, medication, and individual or group therapy.


Detoxification is often the first step toward recovery. You will generally undergo a supervised inpatient detoxification process that eliminates addictive substances from your body and receive help managing your withdrawal.

Inpatient Care

Dual diagnosis medical treatment centers provide both addiction treatment and mental health care services. Staff members should include trained and certified doctors, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, or other specialists who can provide the support, medication, and therapy you require.


A doctor will be able to decide which medication, if any, is an appropriate treatment for your particular diagnosis. Many patients benefit from taking antidepressants, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, and other medicines to alleviate the symptoms of their conditions. Some medications may be able to treat certain mental health and substance abuse symptoms concurrently.

Dual Diagnosis Therapy

Patients who suffer from co-occurring disorders typically undergo dual diagnosis therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly applied treatment modality that helps patients identify and change unproductive thought processes. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) reduces the tendency toward self-destructive behaviors like drug use and physical self-harm.

Dual Diagnosis Group Therapy

Dual diagnosis group therapy can provide emotional and social support during recovery. You may share your experiences with peers while therapists answer your questions and provide tools for managing everyday challenges.

What Are Some Challenges to Treating Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis can be a difficult condition to treat long term. Unfortunately, many factors can contribute to inadequate or failed treatment, including:

Lack of Appropriate Treatment Systems

Many providers only treat dual diagnosis patients for the condition that corresponds to their area of expertise. Psychiatrists who treat mental illness may not be trained to treat substance use disorders, while addiction treatment specialists may not be qualified to treat mental health issues.

Improper Diagnosis

An inexperienced or untrained provider may misattribute or fail to accurately identify the underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms, leading to misdiagnosis or inadequate treatment.

Dual Diagnosis Relapse Rate

Dual diagnosis research indicates that patients with co-occurring disorders experience higher relapse rates than patients diagnosed with either a mental disorder or an addiction.

Inadequate Insurance Coverage

Many mental health services are either not fully covered by insurance or remain unavailable to the uninsured. Insurance companies often fail to cover comprehensive and long-term treatment, including inpatient treatment.

Gaps in Service

Incomplete or inadequate care can make it more difficult for dual diagnosis patients to recover and thrive. Poor communication among providers, insufficient professional training, and a lack of access to treatment can be barriers to a patient’s long-term success.

Opposition to Pharmaceutical Treatment

Some treatment centers do not believe in pharmaceutical treatments for addiction, even when they alleviate the symptoms of mental health disorders. Other treatment centers are unable to prescribe medication to patients legally.

Sabino Recovery Provides Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Tuscon, Arizona

If you are suffering from a substance addiction that is exacerbated by untreated trauma or psychological distress, Sabino Recovery can help. Our private practice helps dual diagnosis patients address the root causes of self-destructive thinking and behavior. We provide the personalized treatment you need to reclaim your life.