Dual-diagnosis addiction treatment is a unique approach that addresses substance use disorder and mental illness together. This complex condition poses many challenges, requiring a comprehensive treatment strategy.

In this article, we’ll explore dual diagnosis addiction treatment, its components, and various benefits. So, stick around!


A dual diagnosis occurs when a patient with a substance use disorder also shows signs of a mental health problem. This disease is also known as a co-occurring disorder.

To diagnose this condition, healthcare providers do different tests to determine mental illness and drug addiction.

As you might know, psychiatric diseases include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and more. Substance use disorders involve alcohol addiction, opioids, or other drug use.

Some common dual diagnosis combinations include the following:

  • Alcohol and depression
  • Anxiety disorder and opioid addiction
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), alcohol abuse and other substance abuse
  • Meth addiction and psychosis
  • Benzodiazepine dependence and anxiety


As you know, treating a mental disorder or addiction in and of itself is challenging. So, when these conditions come together, they can produce worse symptoms.

For instance, an untreated mental health problem can lead to drug abuse and, thus, dependency. Not only can that cause addiction, but substance use can make mental health problems worse.

Additionally, these chemicals can alter the brain’s function, contributing to the development of other mental health problems.

The problem is that around half of people with psychiatric illnesses are likely to develop substance abuse. Likewise, 50% of people with drug dependence can develop mental health issues.

While co-occurring disorders are common, addressing them can be challenging. That’s because, aside from overlapping symptoms, several factors contribute to this problem. These include genetic vulnerability and lifestyle.


Specialized evidence-based substance abuse treatment option is essential for a dual diagnosis treatment program. Focusing only on one aspect of this problem, like a patient will only focus on mental health treatment,  can lead to relapse or an incomplete addiction recovery process.

As you know, dual diagnosis can be a daunting cycle.

For instance, an individual with a mental disorder (borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mood disorder, or bipolar disorder) may use drugs or alcohol to feel better. However, this effect is temporary and won’t solve the root of this illness.

That could lead to substance abuse and dependency, which can contribute further to the mental disorder.

Such cycles of self-medication can lead to a cycle of self-destructive behavior, which could further affect behavioral health in general. For that reason, specialized treatments, which could be residential treatment, family therapy, or individualized treatment (inpatient or outpatient), are crucial for eliminating both conditions and ensuring the therapy is effective.


Dual diagnosis involves different components that are personalized according to the individual’s needs. These treatments include integrated intervention, medical management, individualized therapy, medication, and support groups.

Here’s a detailed explanation of each method:

1. Integrated Intervention

As previously mentioned, both co-occurring disorders require medical attention for the best outcome.

Integrated intervention is one of the best methods to do that. For those wondering, this approach involves the treatment of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders simultaneously.

That means the patient will maintain constant interaction with different service providers.

Why is that important?

Well, that’s because integrated therapy ensures the patient doesn’t get lost. Going back and forth between different mental health and addiction programs can be confusing—not to mention counterproductive.

Scientific data shows that integrated interventions can significantly improve psychiatric symptoms compared to non-integrated ones.

2. Medical Evaluation and Management

Medical evaluation and management are pivotal for treating co-occurring disorders. Patients work with a team of professionals or clinicians to accurately assess the patient’s physical and mental health.

Your doctor will help you understand the effects of both disorders on each other. That’s necessary to determine the best drug rehab treatment and ensure the medications are compatible.

Typically, doctors start with detoxification in this step. Regular monitoring and adjustments are also important for effective medical management.

That’s because monitoring is key to detecting symptoms early enough. As a result, it helps healthcare providers re-intervene early before a relapse.

3. Individualized Therapy

Sure, dual diagnosis treatment generally includes psychotherapy and medical management. However, each person’s condition is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating mental health and substance abuse.

That’s why individualized therapy is an important component of dual diagnosis treatment. Therapists work closely with patients to personalize plans according to their needs and challenges.

Some of the psychotherapies involved in this detox treatment method are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (dbt).

Both behavioral therapies aim to help patients quit negative coping mechanisms and develop positive behavioral patterns.

4. Medication Management

As you might have guessed, medications can be part of co-occurring disorder treatments. Aside from detoxification, individuals may need drugs to address the symptoms of their mental health conditions.

Your doctor may prescribe different medications to treat one or both diseases.

Generally, most medications for mental health problems fall into the following categories:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Beta-blockers
  • Sedatives
  • Sleep aid

Some medications can alleviate both mental and substance abuse disorders. For instance, bupropion is an antidepressant that can also help with nicotine dependence.

Of course, proper medication management involves monitoring the drugs’ effects and making necessary adjustments. That ensures the patient’s safety and treatment effectiveness.

5. Support Groups

Emotional support is essential for mental health. That’s why support groups are a valuable part of dual diagnosis. These groups provide a safe and empathetic space where individuals can openly share their experiences.

The people in such groups have all gone through this illness. Listening to other people’s challenges and success stories can be encouraging. You also feel that you’re not fighting alone. Such social encouragement is essential to helping you maintain your sobriety.



Dual-diagnosis treatment has many benefits. For one, it’s effective, as it addresses the underlying cause. Additionally, it improves self-awareness, which helps patients avoid relapses.

Here are three primary benefits of this approach:

1. Ensures Comprehensive Healing

The dual diagnosis treatment is a holistic approach. It recognizes that psychiatric disorders and drug addiction are intertwined.

That’s why this treatment addresses both mental and substance abuse simultaneously. This comprehensive healing approach is more effective than treating only one disorder. Why?

That’s because it considers recovery’s physical, psychological, and social aspects. As a result, it helps individuals commit to the healing plan and reduce relapse chances.

2. Addresses Root Causes and Interconnected Issues.

As you might know, mental or substance abuse disorders can reoccur if not treated properly. Dual diagnosis treatment delves deep into addressing the root causes instead of just treating the symptoms.

This comprehensive diagnosis helps treatment providers in the treatment facility gain insights into the patient’s struggles. As a result, they choose the best treatment approach.

3. Improved Understanding and Self-Awareness for the Patient

Improved understanding and self-awareness are some of the significant benefits of dual diagnosis. Patients gain insights into their condition through therapy and education. That helps them understand their behavior, which is crucial for making informed choices for a healthier life.


While dual diagnosis offers several advantages, there are still some limitations. Here are the challenges of this treatment approach:

1. Difficulty Pinpointing Primary vs. Secondary Disorders

Diagnosing mental illness is tricky because of the different overlapping symptoms. The problem with co-occurring disorders is that it can be more challenging to identify both aspects of the disease. That’s because it’s difficult to figure out which one came first.

This distinction is important for tailoring effective treatment plans.

2. Potential for a Longer Treatment Duration

Co-occurring disorder patients are more likely to get hospitalized than people with mental illness or substance abuse alone.

The treatment process also involves monitoring to ensure there is improvement. That can cause the therapy duration to be longer than when dealing with only one disorder.

3. The Necessity for Highly Specialized Care Providers

Dual diagnosis treatment requires highly specialized care providers. Doctors responsible for psychiatric disorders may not be equipped to treat drug addictions, and vice versa.

This approach requires a dedicated addiction treatment center that offers different specialists.


Aside from many success stories in support groups, studies show that dual diagnosis treatment is effective long-term. For instance, a study of alcohol-abusing patients with mental illnesses revealed that this approach can help patients stay in remission for a year.

The research included 804 patients, with 76% participating in the treatment follow-up. Out of the former percentage, 68% were still in remission after 12 months. The holistic practices used in the therapy helped individuals make informed decisions to avoid a relapse.


Recovery doesn’t end with primary treatment. Ongoing support is crucial to prevent patients from falling into their older habits. Continuous therapy sessions post-primary treatment and support groups focused on dual diagnosis are crucial for long-term well-being.

Additionally, regular medical check-ups and medication adjustments are crucial to ensuring individuals’ physical and mental health remains stable.


As you can see, dual-diagnosis addiction treatment is a holistic approach. It doesn’t address the symptoms alone. Instead, this therapy delves deeper into the root cause.

Despite its complexities, like the necessity for specialized healthcare providers, this treatment approach remains more effective than non-integrated ones. It helps improve self-awareness, reducing relapse chances.

However, the journey doesn’t end with treatment; ongoing support is essential. At Recreating Life Counseling, a rehab center, we’re dedicated to providing a comprehensive treatment that extends beyond the addiction.If you or a loved one is in need, take the first step towards recovery with us and embark on a path to lasting well-being.


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  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/why-there-comorbidity-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illnesses
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  8. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22838-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt
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  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5576155/

Published on: 2019-03-12
Updated on: 2024-05-10