Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Healing Both Mind and Body

Dual Diagnosis, also called co-occurring disorders, is a co-morbid condition defined as someone who has both a substance abuse problem as well as a psychiatric or emotional issue. Mental illness is not the only condition that accompanies substance abuse in dual diagnosis, many times anxiety, depression, compulsive disorders or phobias plague the patient.

Dual diagnoses have been neglected for a long time. Dual diagnosis also refers to a co-occurring condition in which a person is simultaneously diagnosed with an Axis I and an Axis II psychiatric disorder. While Axis I conditions are considered more or less amenable to treatments such as individual therapy and psychotropic drugs (e.g., antipsychotic, anxiolytic, and antidepressant medications), Axis II conditions are typically considered more resistant or even refractory to such treatments.

According to Mental Health America (MHA), thirty-seven percent of alcohol abusers and fifty-three percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. It’s hard to know if the mental disorder led to substance abuse, through self-medication, or if those suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction have developed psychiatric ailments.

A person with a dual diagnosis has additional challenges in rehabilitation. Often times, treatment centers will focus only on the primary disorder – substance abuse – and not deal with the co-occurring condition of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. It is most beneficial to treat both simultaneously in order to have a higher chance of full recovery.

Dual diagnosis covers a wide array of disorders and is as individual as the patient. A co-occurring condition can be difficult to diagnose initially when the patient is actively abusing alcohol or drugs. Often cessation of the substance will allow the most precise diagnosis. However, that is not always possible. A recovery and rehabilitation center likely will perform one, if not multiple, assessment throughout the stay.

Some individuals with co-occurring disorders have experienced trauma that has become integrated with substance abuse. Trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also considered a co-occurring condition. It is important when seeking treatment that research is done – both on the probable disorder as well as the possible rehabilitation options. Finding a recovery and behavioral health facility that is skilled in dealing with dual diagnosis will go a long way in insuring that proper treatment is given and full healing can begin.

Treatment for a patient suffering from a co-occurring disorder will vary based on what mood disorder the patient may suffer from. For example, depression or anxiety may be treated with talk therapy and journaling while more extensive treatment may be necessary for bi-polar or anti-social conditions. Either way, it is imperative to treat both problems concurrently. Treatment should view both the substance abuse as well as the emotional issues as equal priorities in recovery.

A holistic approach is often the best path to healing. Rehabilitation should include therapy for the mind, body and soul to allow the patient to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually. Healthy nutrition, regular exercise and defining life goals and values assist in the patient’s restoration as well. Some alternative therapies may consist of reiki, yoga or acupressure, massage, meditation and art therapy.

Treating concurrent disorders will help you to understand how the dual diagnosis affects your life, will teach you ways of managing your condition and stress once recovery has begun and will reverse negative behaviors that led to substance abuse. Leading a happy and satisfied life is possible – one step forward is the beginning.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.