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What is Dual Diagnosis?

What is Dual Diagnosis?

What is dual diagnosis? What is the relationship between substance use and mental health? Learn more about this condition and treatment options here.

What is Dual Diagnosis?: An Introduction

Dual diagnosis is when an individual has a mental illness and a substance use disorder. This condition is challenging to manage. 

If you’re asking yourself, “What is dual diagnosis?”, it’s key to get help from people with dual diagnosis treatment experience. This can affect the diagnosis and treatment of both conditions. 

Those with a dual diagnosis often face stigma and discrimination.1 These can make their conditions worse. This article will help people understand the prevalence, challenges, and treatment of dual diagnosis.

what is dual diagnosis

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

It’s essential to approach dual diagnosis with a comprehensive, integrated treatment approach. That means treatment addresses both the mental health and substance use aspects of the condition.2 

If you’re wondering “What is dual diagnosis?”, it’s important first to understand the conditions that make it up: a mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD).

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is also referred to as mental health disorders, and it is one part of dual diagnosis. 

It is a broad term that describes conditions that affect a person’s thinking, behavior, and emotions. Mental illnesses can affect how people think, feel, and interact socially. 

Common Mental Health Conditions

There are many different types of mental illnesses. Each of them has their specific symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Some common examples of mental illnesses include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders

Mental illness can impact individuals of all ages, races, and backgrounds. About one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness each year.3 The causes of mental illness are complex. Many factors can affect who develops a mental illness. 

There are many effective treatments for mental illness. Treatments typically involve a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

What is Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder is another name for addiction. A person with a substance use disorder continues to use drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences. 

Substance use disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, races, and backgrounds. This is the other half of what is dual diagnosis.

Substances Commonly Misused

Substances that are commonly misused – and that are often highly addictive – include:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs

Substance use disorder can develop due to genetics, environment, trauma, and mental health conditions.

Substance use disorders can range in severity, from mild to severe. Treatment involves a combination of medication, behavioral therapies, and support groups. The main goal of treatment is to help the individual achieve and maintain abstinence from the substance.

Is There a Connection Between Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorder?

Mental illness and substance use disorders often happen together. These two conditions are very interconnected and can interact. That’s why it is important to understand the answer to the question “what is dual diagnosis?”

Interconnected Risk

Research shows that people with mental illness are more likely to develop a substance use disorder.4 Also, people with substance use disorders are more likely to experience mental health problems. 

The connection between these two problems helps us understand the fundamental question, “What is dual diagnosis among those struggling with substance use disorder?”

Causes of Interconnection

The reasons for these connections are complex. They can be influenced by various factors. For example, people may use substances to self-medicate for symptoms of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. 

However, substance use can worsen mental health symptoms over time or trigger mental health issues.

Effects on the Brain

Additionally, substance use can impact the brain in ways that increase the risk of mental health problems. For example, heavy alcohol use can lead to depression and anxiety. Long-term stimulant use can also lead to psychosis. 

Treatment Challenges

Dual diagnosis conditions can make treatment challenging. Treatment must be comprehensive and address both mental health and substance use. 

This can only be done by professionals who know the answer to “what is dual diagnosis?” and how to effectively treat co-occurring disorders. 

Treatment may involve a combination of medication, behavioral therapies, and support groups. The goal of treatment is to help the individual achieve and maintain recovery from both conditions. It should also improve their quality of life and prevent relapse.

What is Dual Diagnosis Prevalence?

What is dual diagnosis? If you find yourself asking this question, know that you are not alone. It is a global public health issue affecting millions of people.

What is Dual Diagnosis Scope Globally?

Prevalence rates of dual diagnosis vary by country and region. Yet research consistently shows that people with mental illness are at a higher risk of having a substance use disorder and vice versa.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of mental health disorders is around 10-20% of the population worldwide. They report about 5% of people worldwide have a substance use disorder.5 

However, the rates of co-occurring disorders are not well-documented globally.

What is Dual Diagnosis and What are the Rates in the United States?

In the United States, co-occurring disorders are a significant issue. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2019, about 9.5 million adults aged 18 or older had a dual diagnosis.6 This represents approximately 3.7% of the adult population. 

Individuals Vulnerable to Dual Diagnosis

Specific populations may be at a higher risk of co-occurring disorders. These groups include:


  • People who have experienced trauma
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Incarcerated people

Accuracy of Prevalence Rates

It’s important to note that the actual prevalence of co-occurring disorders may be higher than reported. This is due to issues such as underdiagnosis. Some professionals are unfamiliar with what is dual diagnosis. 


Some people may not be aware of dual diagnosis, and may never have wondered “what is dual diagnosis” in relation to themselves or loved ones. Some populations may have dual diagnosis conditions, but not have access to healthcare to diagnose or treat them.

What is Dual Diagnosis Risk Factors?

The risk factors for dual diagnosis are complex, but they can help us when wondering “What is dual diagnosis?”

Risk Factors

Many different factors can influence the development of co-occurring disorders, and they include:

  • Genetics: Individuals with a family history of mental illness or substance use disorders are more likely to have a dual diagnosis.
  • Environmental factors: Adverse childhood experiences increase risk. 
  • Age: The risk for co-occurring disorders is higher when people are younger and lower as they age.
  • Gender: Men are at higher risk for substance use disorders, while women have a higher risk for mental illness.
  • Social factors: Poverty, isolation, and lack of support systems increase the risk for co-occurring disorders. 
  • Prescription drug use: Misuse or abuse of prescription drugs increases risk. 
  • Other conditions: Chronic pain, sleep disorders, and other conditions all increase the risk of a dual diagnosis. 

Some people have either a mental illness or an addiction while some have both. Additionally, many people with mental illness or substance use disorders do not have a dual diagnosis. 

Still, addressing risk factors for either condition can help reduce the risk of co-occurring disorders and improve overall well-being.

What is Dual Diagnosis and What Are Some Common Challenges in Recovery?

Dual diagnosis can present a range of challenges. These challenges affect individuals, families, and healthcare providers. The challenges can be related to diagnosis, treatment, and social issues. 


Co-occurring disorders are associated with diagnosis challenges, including:

  • Provider Familiarity: Providers may not be very familiar with what dual diagnosis is. This makes it more challenging to get an accurate diagnosis.
  • Suicide Risk: Individuals with co-occurring disorders are at an increased risk of suicide. Healthcare providers must be especially vigilant in assessing and managing suicide risk.


There can be many different challenges associated with treating dual diagnosis conditions, such as:

  • Medication Interactions: Sometimes, medications that treat one of the co-occurring conditions interact with medications treating the other condition. This can make treatment complicated.
  • Relapse: People with co-occurring disorders might also be at a higher risk of relapse. So, genuinely understanding “what is dual diagnosis” is important for relapse prevention.

Social Issues

People with co-occurring disorders are known to face some unique social challenges. These may include: 


  • Social and Environmental Factors: Individuals with co-occurring disorders might face certain challenges in their surroundings. These include poverty, lack of housing, and lack of support systems. This can make it harder to get assessed, get treated, and maintain progress.
  • Stigma: Unfortunately, there is often a stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. This can make it harder for people to seek treatment and support.

These challenges make it more difficult to manage conditions and achieve recovery. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach. This must include an understanding of the question, “What is dual diagnosis?”

What is Dual Diagnosis and What Are Some Common Barriers to Effective Treatment?

Access to care for individuals with dual diagnosis is often limited. There are not many facilities with expertise in what is dual diagnosis and its treatment. 

Potential Barriers

Some common barriers to care include:

  • Lack of integrated care: Many healthcare systems do not provide dual diagnosis care. This can make it difficult to access appropriate treatment.
  • Insurance coverage: Many individuals may not have access to the necessary resources to pay for treatment. Insurance coverage may be limited for treatment specific to co-occurring disorders.
  • Stigma: As stated above, stigma can make it difficult for individuals to seek treatment. This can lead to delayed or inadequate care.
  • Geographical barriers: Rural areas or areas with limited resources may have fewer treatment options. This makes it difficult for individuals with co-occurring disorders to access care.

There can be serious consequences when people cannot access care for co-occurring disorders. These may include relapse, hospitalization, and suicide. Better funding for treatments for dual diagnosis conditions, and better training for healthcare professionals, will help.

What is Dual Diagnosis?: Common Treatment Techniques

You may also ask yourself “What is dual diagnosis treatment?” Treatment for dual diagnosis involves an integrated approach for both conditions. Some common approaches to dual diagnosis treatment include:


  • Medication: Medications can be used to treat both conditions. For example, medications like buprenorphine can treat opioid addiction. Antidepressants can be used to treat depression.
  • Behavioral therapies: These teach people how to cope and manage their symptoms.
  • Support groups: Support groups provide a lot of resources and help for recovery.
  • Family therapy: Therapy sessions with family help provide support. They also help individuals to navigate the challenges of recovery.

Treatment for addiction and mental illness should meet the individual’s needs. A team approach using many modalities is ideal.

What is Dual Diagnosis Aftercare?

Aftercare is a word for the services that follow a formal dual diagnosis treatment program. Aftercare offers support and structure. The main goal is to help people maintain their recovery. 


Aftercare is essential for recovery from dual diagnosis. One of the primary benefits of aftercare is its continuity of care. Aftercare can consist of many different activities.

Education and Training

Education and training are important parts of many aftercare programs. These programs can include workshops on coping skills, stress management, and communication. Individuals who develop these skills manage their symptoms well.

Other Activities

Beyond education and training, individuals can benefit from many other aftercare activities depending on their needs. These might include:

  • Ongoing therapy
  • Support groups 
  • Medication management
  • Healthy lifestyle habits
  • Stress management
  • Relapse prevention planning
  • Continuing education and skill-building

Aftercare activities should be tailored to each person’s unique needs and circumstances. Individuals should work with a mental health professional to develop an aftercare plan.

what is dual diagnosis

What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment Like at Rise Above?

If you or a loved one are researching “What is dual diagnosis?”, know that you are not alone on your journey to recovery. 


Rise Above Treatment in Murrieta, California, is here to help. Whether you’re at the first step or familiar with co-occurring disorders, we can offer answers. Here are some of the benefits of our program:

Expert Providers

Rise Above Treatment offers comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment and aftercare, delivered by some of California’s best minds in mental healthcare.

Quality Care

Our residential services provide a serene, comfortable, and safe environment for individuals to begin their recovery journey. 


Our treatment methods are evidence-based, individualized, and administered by licensed nurses, therapists, and social workers experienced in helping people begin and maintain recovery.

Aftercare Programs

At Rise Above Treatment, we understand that recovery is an ongoing process that requires ongoing support. 


Our aftercare activities are tailored to each person’s unique needs and circumstances. We ensure they receive the ongoing support, education, and community they need to recover over time.

Contact Rise Above Treatment Today

Our expert team is here to help you begin your journey toward healing and recovery. Our facility is certified by the state government, and we pride ourselves on delivering quality care in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.  


Contact us to learn more today.

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Are you ready to Rise Above your mental health and addiction challenges?

Reach out to us today. Let us provide the support and guidance needed for sustainable recovery and wellness, allowing you to lead the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life you deserve.