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Dual Diagnosis – The Connection between Addiction and Mental Illness

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is the condition of having a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder at the same time. These disorders often co-exist for a long period of time before they are diagnosed, and they usually need an integrated and simultaneous treatment program that addresses both conditions to have long-lasting recovery.

The following are some key facts that you should know about dual diagnosis disorders.

Dual Diagnosis Disorders Occur Often

People who have dual diagnosis disorders may occur more frequently than you imagine. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that nearly 50 percent of people with a serious mental illness also suffer from substance abuse or addiction. Also, 53 percent of people who abuse drugs and 37 percent of people who abuse alcohol report suffering from at least one serious mental health issue.

The following conditions are the most common to occur with substance abuse disorders:  

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Disorders May Lead to One Another

The connection between mental health disorders and substance abuse can be seen as a road with two-way traffic.

Mental illness can lead to substance abuse in a several different ways, including:

Self-Medication: People who have a mental disorder may turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to treat their mental illness on their own.

More likely to experiment with drugs: People suffering from mental illnesses may be more likely to experiment with substances, especially people with a disorder that includes self-control or impulsiveness issues.

Increased exposure to substances: Some mental health disorders may lead someone to be more likely to be around substance use. For example, a young person with a behavior disorder is more likely to become a substance abuser later in life.

Substance abuse disorders may also lead to a mental illness:

Environmental factors: Substance abuse can cause an individual to experience more stress and have less support to cope with it, which may lead to the development of a mental health issue.

Biological factors: Substance use affects the chemistry of the brain which can cause, reveal, or intensify, various mental health issues.

Dual Diagnosis Disorders Have Emotional, Physical, and Social Effects

Dealing with dual diagnosis disorders can have emotional, physical, and social effects including:


People who have a dual-diagnosis commonly feel frustrated or distressed by their disorders, which can lead to increased stress, disconnection or isolation from others, lower self-esteem, guilt, and shame. All these things contribute to the decline of a person’s emotional health and increase the risk of depression and anxiety.


The physical effects of dual diagnosis disorders vary depending on the type of mental health issue and the substance being used – but they can be quite serious. Each disorder is likely to worsen the negative effects of the other, amplifying the symptoms for both. With dual diagnosis disorders, sufferers are more likely to neglect their health and self-care which can also intensify physical issues.


Relating to other people can be difficult for people with both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder. People with a dual diagnosis experience double the issues of having only one disorder, and that can make social situations very challenging.

Common Underlying Factors Contribute to Dual Diagnosis Disorders

There are certain characteristics that may contribute to a person developing both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder.

  • Genetics – Genes may create certain dispositions that make a person more likely to use drugs or alcohol or develop a mental health issue that paves the way for a substance abuse disorder.
  • Personality – Personality traits like risk-taking and novelty-seeking can relate to drug or alcohol abuse and mental disorders.
  • Brain chemistry – The brain chemical dopamine is affected by both substance abuse and some mental disorders. Changes in the brain from one disorder can cause the development of the other.
  • Environmental factors – Certain environmental factors may underlie dual diagnosis disorders as well. High stress levels, experiencing trauma, and exposure to drugs or alcohol in childhood all seem to be related to the development of dual diagnosis disorders.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Must Treat Both Conditions Together

Treatment for people with dual diagnosis disorders must integrate both disorders in the recovery process, instead of treating each one separately. Just as the two disorders have intertwined, treatment and recovery must as well. While treatment for dual diagnosis may be more complicated, finding the right Holistic  treatment program    and facility can lead to a successful, long-term recovery.

David Meyer
My name is David Meyer. I'm a health specialist and have created this website to help people learn more about its health.

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