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Dual Diagnosis

Mental disorders, such as depression, often accompany an addiction. When co-occurring disorders are present, the individual has a dual diagnosis.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

Depressed manA dual diagnosis describes a person who has a mental illness and co-existing substance abuse problem.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 45 percent of people with addiction have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Both addiction and mental illnesses stem from the brain, making people with mental disorders more susceptible to addiction and vice versa. People with mental disorders may be more susceptible to developing an addiction. Yet, researchers aren’t exactly sure why co-occurring disorders are so prevalent. Some theories include:

  • Drugs are a way to self-medicate symptoms of mental health issues.
  • Drugs worsen mental health conditions.
  • Drug abuse sparks the first signs of a mental health disorder.

Common Mental Health Issues and Addiction

There are a few mental health issues that often present themselves alongside addiction. These include:

  • Depression. An estimated 1 in 10 adults in the United States have reported suffering from depression. With numbers this high, it’s unsurprising that addiction and depression have a strong connection. Many people experiencing depression try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This often makes the problem worse. The crash after the high can be devastating for those with a pre-existing depressive condition.
  • Bipolar disorder. About half of people with bipolar disorder also struggle with addiction. As with any other disorder, it can be tempting to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol provide temporary relief from painful situations and manic episodes for people with bipolar.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD causes a number of unwanted obsessions and compulsions, such as an irrational fear of germs and the need to constantly clean. There are many variations of this illness. People with OCD often suffer from anxiety and depression as a result of their involuntary behavior, which can lead substance abuse.
  • Anxiety. The most common mental condition in the U.S., anxiety affects 18 percent of the adult population. People who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks may be more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol to manage their symptoms. People with anxiety may also abuse benzodiazepines, which are addictive anxiety medications.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people witness terrifying and traumatic events in their lives that cause them long-lasting duress. Many people with PTSD use drugs and alcohol in an attempt to cope with their past. By some estimates, about 75 percent of people who lived through a traumatic episode have an alcohol problem.
  • Eating disorders. People with eating disorders often have strong feelings of inferiority, similar to people who self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. It’s common for people with eating disorders to also abuse drugs. Drugs that suppress appetite are especially common among people with these disorders.

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Why Co-Occurring Disorders Are Treated Differently

Only treating the physical effects of addiction leaves the underlying disorder raw and untreated. Recovering addicts with an untreated co-occurring disorder have an increased risk of relapse.

Signs of drug abuse and mental health disorders are often similar and connected. Depression and addiction, for example, have several things in common, including:

  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Reckless behavior
  • Irritability

These overlapping effects highlight the complexity of treating co-occurring disorders. A treatment center that understands how to treat mental health issues can get to the root of these problems, treating both issues at once. Treatment of co-occurring disorders is necessary for a successful addiction recovery.

Statistics on Co-Occurring Disorders

2Xmore likely

People addicted to drugs are twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).


Nearly 8.4 million adults in the U.S. have both a mental and substance use disorder, according to the 2012 NSDUH.

4Xmore likely

People with severe mental illness are about 4 times more likely to be heavy alcohol users. They are also over 5 times more likely to be daily tobacco smokers, according to a study by NIDA.

Get Help for a Dual Diagnosis

If you or someone you know is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, don’t wait to get help. Qualified treatment centers across the U.S. can help treat the substance and mental health issues in your life. Get help with a dual diagnosis now.

Sources & Author Last Edited: January 21, 2016

  1. (2014). Integrated Treatment of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness. Retrieved on November 5, 2014, from:
  2. National Institutes of Health. (2011). Substance Use Disorders and Borderline Personality. Retrieved on November 6, 2014, from:
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses. Retrieved on November 6, 2014, from:
  4. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2015). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved on May 8, 2015, from:
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