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Among the many challenges associated with substance abuse is the propensity for “dual diagnosis.”

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes, dual diagnosis is “a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously.” The two diagnoses share a close relationship across a number of areas. NAMI states: “Either disorder—substance use or mental illness—can develop first. People experiencing a mental health condition may turn to alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication to improve the mental health symptoms they experience. However, research shows that alcohol and other drugs worsen the symptoms of mental illnesses.”

In fact, the interactions may be even more tightly intertwined. How common Is dual diagnosis?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes that “People with a mental disorder are more likely to experience a substance use disorder and people with a substance use disorder are more likely to have a mental disorder when compared with the general population. According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS), about 45% of Americans seeking substance use disorder treatment have been diagnosed as having a co-occurring mental and substance use disorder.”

Or, as NAMI states: “According to a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 7.9 million people in the U.S. experience both a mental disorder and substance use disorder simultaneously. More than half of those people—4.1 million to be exact—are men.”

Dual Diagnosis Integrated Treatments

As highlighted here, some co-occurring or dual diagnoses include:

In fact, SAMHSA “supports an integrated treatment approach to treating co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. Integrated treatment requires collaboration across disciplines. Integrated treatment planning addresses both mental health and substance abuse, each in the context of the other disorder. Treatment planning should be client-centered, addressing clients’ goals and using treatment strategies that are acceptable to them.”

The site continues: “Integrated treatment or treatment that addresses mental and substance use conditions at the same time is associated with lower costs and better outcomes such as:”

  • Reduced substance use
  • Improved psychiatric symptoms and functioning
  • Decreased hospitalization
  • Increased housing stability
  • Fewer arrests
  • Improved quality of life

In our next post, we’ll go deeper into symptoms and certain populations at risk.