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Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is a treatment methodology that treats substance abuse in conjunction with a co-occurring mental health disorder. These mental health disorders can include: depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, mania, and disassociative disorders. It is important to understand that the behavioral unmanageability associated with drug and alcohol addiction is not specifically a sign of dual diagnosis, as it will improve with the treatment of the addiction.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment – Dual Disorders

Evidence-Based Practices: Shaping Mental Health Services Toward Recovery


What is Dual Diagnosis? A person who has both an alcohol or drug problem and an emotional/psychiatric problem is said to have a dual diagnosis (dual disorder). To recover fully, the person needs treatment for both problems.


Co-Occurring Disorders: Integrated Dual Diagnosis and Dual Disorders Treatment

Dual diagnosis refers to the presence of both a severe mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. Integrated dual diagnosis treatment has been shown to work effectively for individuals with both disorders. In this treatment model, a single clinician or an integrated treatment team provides both mental health and substance abuse treatment services. Many dual diagnosis treatment centers in the United States offer integrated dual diagnosis treatment.

Recovery from mental illness and substance use

Individuals with mental illness are more prone to develop problems with alcohol and drug use. This is the definition of dual diagnosis. Dually diagnosed individuals tend to use drugs and alcohol for the same reasons that people without a mental illness do, but they are often more sensitive to these substances’ euphoric and negative effects.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that one of every two individuals with severe mental illness has the additional problem of substance abuse, (abuse or dependence related to alcohol or other drugs).

There is good news for dual diagnosis sufferers

Most individuals with dual diagnosis can achieve recovery, and their lives are much better when they are in recovery. Building a satisfying and meaningful life without drugs or alcohol requires time, support, education, courage, and learning new skills.

How can people with dual disorders achieve recovery from both mental illness and substance abuse?

  • Most people with dual diagnosis are able to achieve recovery. The chance of recovery improves when people receive integrated diagnosis treatment, which means combined mental health and substance abuse treatment from a single clinician or a treatment team.
  • Relapses do happen, but most people are able to recover from relapses relatively quickly and get back to where they were before they relapsed.
  • Families and clinicians cannot force people to give up alcohol and drugs. Family and other supporters can help by providing support and hope, but recovery must be a person’s own choice. It may take a long time for some people to achieve lasting recovery.
  • People with dual diagnosis can learn from peers who are in recovery. Some may benefit from self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Dual Recovery Anonymous. It is a matter of personal preference.

What is integrated dual diagnosis treatment?

Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment occurs when a person receives combined treatment for mental illness and substance abuse from a single clinician or a treatment team. It helps dual diagnosis sufferers develop hope, knowledge, skills, and the support they need to manage their problems and pursue meaningful life goals.

You will know if you are receiving integrated treatment because your clinician or treatment team will do several things at the same time, including:

  • Help you think about the role that alcohol and other drugs play in your life. This should be done confidentially, without any negative consequences. You should feel free to discuss these issues most often when the discussion is confidential, nonjudgmental, and not tied to legal consequences.
  • Offer you a chance to learn more about alcohol and drugs, to learn about how they interact with mental illnesses and with medications, and to discuss your own use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Help you become engage in supported employment and other services that may help your process of recovery.
  • Help you identify and develop your own recovery goals. If you decide that your use of alcohol or drugs may be a problem, a counselor trained in integrated dual diagnosis treatment can help you plan your goals in recovery.
  • Provide special counseling specifically designed for people with dual disorders. If you decide that your use of alcohol or drugs may be a problem, a trained counselor can provide special counseling specifically designed for people with dual disorders. This can be done individually, with a group of peers, with your family, or a combination. This process includes learning about the specific nature of both illnesses and learning the tools of recovery.

If you are a person with dual disorders, participating in integrated dual diagnosis treatment is extremely important

Effective treatment will help reduce the risk for many problems, such as

  • Increased symptoms of a mental illness
  • Hospitalizations
  • Financial problems
  • Family problems
  • Homelessness
  • Suicide
  • Violence
  • Sexual and physical victimization
  • Incarceration
  • Serious medical illnesses, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C
  • Sometimes even early death.

What can you, as a dually diagnosed individual do?

  • Get more information and support about what having dual disorders means and how it affects your recovery process.
  • Do everything you can to build a positive life for yourself — free of alcohol and drugs. For most people recovery includes meaningful activities, like a job, friendships with people who do not use alcohol or drugs, a safe place to live, and enjoying leisure activities that are fun and relaxing. This all takes time. Don’t give up.
  • If you are having trouble with your mental illness as well as with substance abuse, it is important to talk with mental health professionals about how to get your symptoms under better control and how to improve your recovery process.

For more information

Information about integrated dual diagnosis treatment, as well as other evidence-based practices for the treatment of mental illness in the community, can be found at

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