Dual Diagnosis Therapy

While dealing with the effects of a substance use disorder or a mental health disorder, trying to continue or complete a treatment program often proves difficult. When you suffer from at least one co-occurring substance addiction as well as a mental health disorder, dealing with dual diagnosis disorders on your own may seem even more difficult, if not impossible. Dual diagnosis therapy treats both the co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders simultaneously.

Challenges of dual diagnosis

According to HelpGuide, "In a dual diagnosis, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function, handle life's difficulties and relate to others." Each of the disorders affects and interacts with each other, making the struggle even more difficult.

Those who deal with dual diagnosis are not alone. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that as many as 6 out of 10 people struggling with substance abuse also have a mental health disorder.

When one suffers from dual diagnosis disorders, not treating the mental health disorder can cause the substance abuse disorder to worsen and vice versa.

Many people with co-occurring disorders try to self-medicate their depression, anxiety or other mental health disorder by abusing alcohol or other drugs. Multiple factors cause the mental health symptoms to actually worsen.

HelpGuide reveals information published by the Journal of the American Medical Association that indicates:

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs

Researchers and other professionals have not yet determined why substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders occur together so frequently. NIDA also explains that it is not always possible to determine whether the substance abuse or the mental health disorder came first. What is known is that one disorder can bring about another.

Treating dual diagnosis

Treating dual diagnosis disorders successfully requires treating both. NIDA also stresses this in saying that treating dual diagnosis disorders "calls for a comprehensive approach that identifies and evaluates both."

Dual diagnosis group therapy is often used when treating those suffering from a dual diagnosis disorder. HelpGuide refers to dual diagnosis therapy in a group setting as "very helpful, not only in maintaining sobriety, but also as a safe place to get support and discuss challenges," pointing out that dual diagnosis group therapy groups often continue to meet on an after-care basis.

In one study, published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers concluded that "the severity of mental health consumers’ substance abuse problems can be substantially decreased in several areas in an outpatient public setting." Researchers also found that when considering the outcome of testing two types of group therapy utilized in the research, "using either group therapy model was more effective in reducing problem severity than using no specific model."

Ongoing aftercare provides the support and tools an individual needs after completing a dual diagnosis program. Group therapy is often used in aftercare as well as the initial comprehensive treatment program treating the dual diagnosis disorders.


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