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Dual Diagnosis: Coping with Addiction and Mental Health

In simple terms, dual diagnosis means that a person is dealing with both a mental health issue and a problem with drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances or behavioural addiction at the same time. It is as if they are facing two or more challenges at once. Mental health issues can include things like depression or anxiety, while substance use issues involve problems with drugs or alcohol.

What makes it challenging is that these two issues impact each other. For example, if someone is already feeling depressed, using substances might make them feel better in the short term but is bound to make them feel worse in the long run. On the flip side, substance use can also contribute to people developing mental health problems they did not suffer from before their addiction started.

When these two conditions coexist, they can intensify each other, creating a challenging cycle that demands comprehensive treatment. Dual diagnosis is not uncommon, and it really requires a special kind of treatment that deals with both issues at the same time. Here at Connection Mental Healthcare, we understand that an integrated approach is crucial to helping people break the cycle and improve their overall health and well-being.

Dual Diagnosis – Substance Abuse and Common Mental Health Disorders

Dual diagnosis, or the co-occurrence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, is very common. These conditions often occur together with studies showing that approximately 50% of people experiencing a substance use disorder during their lives will also have a mental health disorder, and vice versa. So you are not alone!

Common mental health disorders that have been linked to substance abuse include the following:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

People with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may turn to substance use as a coping mechanism for their symptoms. Unfortunately, stimulants which are commonly prescribed for ADHD, can be habit-forming, potentially leading to a pattern of substance misuse.

Bipolar disorder

Around half of those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder also face challenges related to addiction. The temptation to self-medicate is very common, with drugs and alcohol providing temporary relief from the emotional difficulties and manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Studies indicate a frequent co-occurrence of addiction and borderline personality disorder (BPD). More than two-thirds of people with BPD have engaged in substance abuse at some point in their lives.


Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health problems. Many people diagnosed with depression resort to self-medication through drugs or alcohol, which tends to worsen the underlying issue.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders often stem from feelings of inferiority. Drugs are commonly used to help suppress appetite among people with these disorders.


Anxiety is another commonly diagnosed mental health issue.  People suffering from anxiety may be more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol to manage their symptoms. Some people may also misuse Benzodiazepines, a highly addictive prescription medication used to treat anxiety disorders.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

OCD causes unwanted obsessions and compulsions which often lead tos anxiety and depression. People with OCD may resort to substance abuse as a response to their involuntary behaviours.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

When a person develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), their brain produces fewer endorphins than a healthy brain, making them more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs for relief.

Dual Diagnosis: Symptoms and Causes

Symptoms of dual diagnosis are diverse and depend on the specific mental health and substance use disorders involved. Substance use disorder symptoms often include withdrawal from social circles, difficulty focusing, abrupt behavioural changes, engaging in risky behaviours, developing substance tolerance, and feeling reliant on the substance. Mental health disorder symptoms encompass extreme mood swings, confusion, concentration issues, social withdrawal, and thoughts of suicide.

Determining which disorder came first is often like the chicken-and-egg question. While it’s challenging to pinpoint the initial culprit, there’s a clear connection between substance use and mental health disorders. Shared risk factors, such as genetics and environmental influences like stress and trauma, can contribute to the development of both conditions. Mental health disorders may lead to self-medication through substance use, while substance use can trigger changes in the brain, increasing the likelihood of mental health disorders.

Dual Diagnosis: Navigating the Complexity

Both mental health and substance use symptoms are easily interchangeable. The below is a common list of symptoms which can be attributed to mental health issues:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Difficulty maintaining focus
  • Sudden changes in behaviour    
  • Engaging in risky behaviours      
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Confusion
  • Problems concentrating
  • Inability to function at work or school
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Thoughts of suicide

By simply adding –  Developing a high tolerance for the substance and Feeling like you need the substance to function, you have a list of common symptoms for a person suffering from addiction. And so, it is easy to understand how the two are closely tied.

Dual diagnosis poses a unique challenge for any rehabilitation centre due to the overlapping symptoms of both disorders, as seen above. An accurate diagnosis involves utilising comprehensive screening tools and open communication between patients and their counsellors. Honest discussions are the only way that counsellors can identify the specific disorders involved and tailor appropriate treatment plans.

Dual Diagnosis Management and Treatment: A Comprehensive Approach

An effective dual-diagnosis treatment addresses both mental health and substance use disorders at the same time. For people with a dependent pattern of substance use and mental health conditions, a dual-diagnosis treatment centre offers comprehensive care, including medication, therapy, and support.

A tailored treatment program is a combination of various tools designed to set you up for success.

Detox: Detoxification plays a crucial role in the journey towards overcoming addiction by allowing the body to heal from the effects of long-term substance use. However, it is imperative to seek professional support during this process to ensure a medically supervised and safe detox treatment.

Therapy: At Connection Mental Healthcare, we are committed to delivering personalised treatment that aligns perfectly with your objectives. Our program incorporates scientifically backed methodologies as well as introduction to the well-established and proven 12-step fellowships.

Medication: Medications may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms of both mental health and substance use disorders.

Support Groups: Peer support is invaluable for maintaining sobriety. Support groups provide that much-needed emotional and social support, enabling people to share experiences and gather insights for overcoming everyday challenges. We also offer an extensive aftercare program and family support services.

An integrated approach to treatment is crucial for dual diagnosis. Whether mental health or substance abuse issues surface first, simultaneous treatment is essential. Addressing both disorders concurrently involves medication, counselling, lifestyle changes, and peer support. Trying to recover on your own can be very overwhelming and challenging as you need to have the right treatment and support for your unique situation.

A Path to Recovery

There is always hope. With the right treatment plan, the prospects for dual diagnosis recovery are within your reach. Continuous collaboration with counsellors, engagement in support groups, and reaching out for help are crucial steps toward improving the quality of your life.

Dual diagnosis presents intricate challenges, but with the right knowledge, support, and treatment, people can navigate the path to recovery. Connection Mental Healthcare stands committed to fostering understanding, compassion, and comprehensive care for those facing the complexities of dual diagnosis. Remember, seeking help is the first step towards a brighter, healthier future.

At Connection Mental Healthcare, we understand the fact that addiction seldom occurs by choice. Our dedicated team offers effective solutions for those battling with drug addiction. Through our personalised approach, we provide individuals battling addiction with access to professional guidance and support that empowers them to reclaim control over their lives. 

Connect with our team today! Taking the initial steps toward finding help can be daunting; however, if you’re driven to change your situation, we are here for you. Experiencing the addiction of a loved one can be an extremely difficult situation, leaving you with feelings of frustration, powerlessness and sadness. Reach out to us; we are here for you.

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