What is a Dual Diagnosis and How is it Treated?

Dual diagnosis therapy is available at many drug and alcohol rehab centers for patients who need treatment for both a substance use disorder and mental illness. In the United States, about half of all people who seek treatment for substance use disorders are diagnosed with a co-occurring mental illness, reports the National Institute on Drug AbuseĀ (NIDA).

A person with a dual diagnosis is highly likely to experience a relapse in both disorders if they receive treatment for only one disorder; therefore, finding a drug rehab center that offers dual diagnosis therapy is essential to experiencing long-lasting recovery.

Hereā€™s how a dual diagnosis can be effectively treated at an addiction treatment center.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy helps patients manage their mental illness symptoms and change harmful behaviors and attitudes that may contribute to their addiction. A wide range of behavioral therapies are available for dual diagnosis, though each patient may receive a specific set of therapies based on their unique situations and mental health disorders. For example, a person with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and opioid addiction may receive interpersonal social rhythms therapy, which helps them regulate their sleep cycle with the intent of stabilizing their circadian rhythm and related mood disturbances.

Other behavioral therapies that may be used to treat a dual diagnosis include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients modify harmful attitudes and behaviors that contribute to substance use and mental illness.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy helps patients reduce self-harm behaviors such as cutting, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.
  • Assertive community treatment, which emphasizes community outreach.
  • Therapeutic communities, which are a form of residential drug rehab that focus on resocializing patients.
  • Contingency management, which rewards patients with vouchers when they practice healthy behaviors.

Each of the above behavioral therapies can be modified for each patient to accommodate their substance use disorder and mental illness. According to a study in theĀ Indian Journal of Psychiatry, the mental health disorders that most commonly occur with substance use disorders include borderline and antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders.


Medications such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants may be used to help patients manage their mental health disorders and avoid episodes related to their illness.

Medications may also be used to reduce drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms and to help patients stay sober. Methadone and buprenorphine reduce drug cravings associated with opioid addiction, while acamprosate and disulfiram are used to deter patients from alcohol use. Naltrexone promotes abstinence from both opioids and alcohol because it blocks the effects of these substances, such as euphoria.

Some medications can be used to treat both addiction and mental illness. For instance, theĀ NIDA statesĀ that bupropion effectively treats both nicotine dependence and depression, and may also reduce cravings for methamphetamine.

Patients who receive medications for their dual diagnosis will often work closely with their doctors to communicate changes in the type and severity of symptoms. There are many instances in which doctors may adjust dosages or medications throughout the course of treatment, given how patients may respond better to some treatments than others.

Support Groups

Support groups can provide dual diagnosis patients with emotional and social support, and provide them with a place to share tips about how to deal with the daily challenges they may face, reports theĀ National Library of Medicine. The most well-known support groups for substance use disorders are Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous. However, patients with a dual diagnosis may join groups limited to people with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Support groups provide patients with ongoing support and encouragement and can also reduce the feelings of isolation that often go hand in hand with substance use disorders and mental illness.

Contact a drug and alcohol rehab center like East Point Recovery Center for help if you or a loved one needs treatment for a dual diagnosis.