Dual Diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is defined as the occurrence of both mental illness and a substance abuse problem simultaneously. The term dual-diagnosis belongs to a broad spectrum for example it can be stated for depression with alcoholism as well as for specific mental illness such as schizophrenia along with marijuana addiction.  Individuals face various combinations of dual diagnosis, for instance, in some cases there is just one mental disorder and one substance problem. In other cases there are two mental health issues such as bipolar disorder and anxiety along with one addiction problem and sometimes one mental illness with dual substance problems.

dual dignosis

It is important to understand which anomaly pre-existed before the appearance of the second. Some individuals use sedatives, stimulants and various other substances to regulate their mood during the course of a mental illness. For example, in patients with bipolar disorder, self-medicating behavior is quite common in order to either elevate a depressed mood or calm the nerves during euphoric state. Researchers have stated that the use of any mood altering substance can worsen the condition of the mental illness. On the other hand, excess use of substances can induce symptoms similar to mental illness such as substance-induced psychosis or schizophrenia. In such cases, the psychotic symptoms usually disappear after maintaining abstinence from the drug for quite some time.

According to recent researches, almost 50% of individuals called in for treatment of drug abuse problem have at least one mental illness as well. And about one third of individuals suffering from mental disorders also experience substance abuse disorder. Men are more likely to develop a co-occurring disorder than women. Other people who have a particularly high risk of dual diagnosis include individuals of lower socioeconomic status, military veterans and people with more general medical illnesses.

Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis:

The symptoms of dual diagnosis vary a great deal because of the broad range of co-occurring mental illnesses and symptomology. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Abrupt Behavioral Change
  • Interest in risky behavior
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Losing control over substance use.
  • Doing drugs in risky situations
  • Develop tolerance
  • Inability to function without the substance

 Some of the most common disorders included in the dual diagnosis categories are:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality Disorders
  • OCD
  • Depression
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Panic Disorder

There are some very mild forms of dual-diagnosis as well, which include panic disorder, GAD with opium dependence. Co-occurring disorders or disorders with dual diagnose have an increased rate of relapse, hospitalization, homelessness, HIV and Hepatitis C infection.

Integrated intervention is the most helpful and common method of treatment for dual diagnosis today and the individual receives care and treatment for a specific mental illness and substance abuse. Because there are many ways in which a dual diagnosis may occur treatment may very easily vary for every other person.

Psychotherapy is the most effective treatment plan for dual diagnosis. Educating the individuals on their illness and their beliefs and behaviors has shown in countless studies to improve the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is effective in helping people with dual diagnosis learn how to cope and to change ineffective patterns of thinking.

By Samreen Masud
Clinical Psychologist