Dual diagnosis is the condition whereby a substance user also happens to have a mental disorder.  It is important that co-occurring disorders be treated simultaneously.  Failure to do this can lead to a relapse.  For example, if one uses alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of anxiety or depression, treating alcoholism alone will most likely not lead to lasting results.  That is because the underlying mental condition that caused it will encourage the addict to go back to the habit.

One the other hand, treating mental illness without treating substance abuse leads to a worsening situation.  Most drugs change the brain chemistry and therefore aggravate mental illness.  Dual diagnosis treatment seeks to ensure that both are addressed simultaneously.

Occurrence and Frequency

According to statistics, half of all drug abusers have had a mental illness.  One in three alcoholics also has a mental condition.  Co-occurring disorders are more common among men than women.

Dual diagnosis treatment centers also pay attention to other factors such as homelessness.  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, alcoholism often causes and results in homelessness.  Therefore, homelessness and alcoholism can also be said to be a co-occurring disorder.


Many people who have co-occurring disorders may not be fully aware of the effect of mental illness on their continued use of drugs.  Conversely, they may also not be aware that drugs may be worsening their mental illness.  It is, therefore, important for all addicts to be assessed by a qualified professional before treatment for either condition commences.

Many mental health clinics will often screen their patients for alcohol and drug abuse.  Rehabilitation facilities with a dual diagnosis program will assess the patient for possible mental and psychological conditions that he may have.


Treating co-occurring conditions starts with detoxification.  This process often lasts for seven days but the duration may vary according to the drug abused and the physiological profile of the addict.  The process often involves administering decreasing amounts of the abused drug or a medical alternative.  This minimizes the effects of withdrawal symptoms.

Some users who have been abusing the substance regularly and for extended periods of time may experience severe withdrawal symptoms.  The recovering addict is placed under close 24-hour surveillance to ensure their condition is monitored for any danger signs.


Medication may be administered to help the recovering addict deal with their mental condition especially during the early stages of rehabilitation.  Giving medication to patients in rehab is not absolutely necessary.  However, there are some mental illnesses that may demand the use of medication.


It involves educating the patient, and sometimes, his family of the drug and the psychological patterns that led to addiction.  This may also involve the use of evidence-based psychotherapy treatments.

Some of the evidence psychotherapy treatments include CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  CBT seeks to help the patient understand the patterns responsible for both their mental illness and substance abuse.  It is considered to be one of the most effective strategies for treating people with co-occurring conditions.

IDDT (Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment)

This is an evidence-based treatment process.  It seeks to help people with co-occurring conditions treat both simultaneously.  It combines mental health and substance abuse services in order to address both and help the addict recover.  It is usually tailored to each patient’s personal needs and may include, social, educational and physiological elements of addiction.

It is advisable to visit dual diagnosis treatment centers even if you think you don’t have a co-occurring condition.  It is not always possible to tell if you have a mental condition since some symptoms of mental illness are similar to those of substance abuse.  An assessment is necessary before going for rehabilitation.