mental illness

Mental illness and addiction can be two issues that feed off each other in a cyclical loop if left untreated. Many people who are diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder also suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder. This is known as dual-diagnosis. However, treating it is not all that simple because it can be challenging to detect when both conditions co-occur and have many overlapping symptoms. 

When a mental health issue is left undetected or untreated in the recovery process, it can lead to a higher risk of relapse. It may also be the case that a person who struggles with substance use issues won’t be seen by a mental health professional until they stop using drugs or alcohol. This fragmented care can lead to people falling between the cracks in services and feeling like they are not getting the holistic help they need. Recognizing when a patient may be suffering from both addiction and a mental health issue is paramount. By providing individuals with an integrated treatment plan that addresses both problems, they can stand a better chance of successfully attaining a healthy, fulfilling life.  

Common Mental Health Issues Linked to Substance Abuse

When suffering from a mental health issue, many people may turn to drugs or alcohol as a quick source of temporary relief to cope with their symptoms. Because of this, it can be tempting to self medicate. When this action is repeated as a coping mechanism, it can become habit-forming and lead to an unhealthy pattern of substance abuse. Some of these mental health issues that have risks for substance abuse include:  

  • Depression
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Identifying When Dual Diagnosis Treatment is Needed

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of those who experience mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance abuse disorder and vice-versa. While these conditions can happen simultaneously, one can also cause the other, such as a mental health disorder inducing substance addiction or substance addiction resulting in a mental health issue. Thus, it is reported that a high number of individuals with substance abuse have psychiatric issues, and a high rate of psychiatric symptoms are present in those with substance abuse disorders. It can be helpful to look out for certain factors when deciding the best treatment options and if Dual Diagnosis is needed. These may include: 

  • A previous history of mental illness
  • Using drugs or alcohol to escape emotional distress or everyday stress 
  • Expressing feelings of despair, hopelessness, or worthlessness for two or more weeks in a row 
  • Dramatic changes in mood and energy levels 
  • Believes things that are not true (delusions) or has sensory experiences that are not shared by others (hallucinations)
  • Deliberately withdraws from others and refuses offers of support

Ultimately, to receive a dual diagnosis, a patient must first meet the criteria for a mental health disorder as defined by the current version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. This is a guideline for mental health professionals who are diagnosing and treating patients.    

The Goal of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

An integrated treatment plan aims to help people learn to maintain sobriety while managing the symptoms of their mental illness at the same time. Depending on the person, treatment may vary as it is tailored to the individual’s unique diagnoses. It is essential to treat an individual as a person and not a collection of their symptoms or disorders. Effective treatment will have the ability to tailor programs to a person’s individual needs. These needs should be met simultaneously instead of sequentially. This allows a person to manage their symptoms without relying on alcohol or drugs, and avoidance of untreated mental health issues resulting in the urge to drink or get high. Dual Diagnosis programs should offer this parallel treatment, provide therapy depending on the mental illness, acknowledge the possibility of psychotherapeutic medications, and offer treatment in the recovery process.  

Without this treatment, a person can go through a revolving-door scenario where they get treated for a substance abuse disorder but fail to get proper mental health care. Without the appropriate mental health care, they may relapse down the line when looking for an escape from the symptoms of their mental illness. This is why Dual Diagnosis can help stop this dangerous cycle by treating both issues at once. 


The stigma around mental health and addiction can sometimes be challenging to overcome when trying to seek treatment. When these two issues have overlapping symptoms, it can be difficult to identify accurately, and it can lead to many people falling through the cracks. However, by providing a culture of understanding and offering simultaneous treatment for both of these issues, a person can feel more confident in getting well-rounded and professional help. Dual Diagnosis can provide individuals with a specified and integrated treatment plan for lasting healing and end the cyclical relationship between mental illness and substance abuse. This approach blends the most successful aspects of mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Here at Alta Centers, we know how important it is to treat each individual with the utmost care and tailor their treatment to their specific needs. Contact us today to learn more about our Dual Diagnosis treatment and our various other services at (888) 202-2583.

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