What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is defined as a condition in which a patient is simultaneously suffering from a substance abuse problem and a mental health disorder, according to the National Alliance on the Mental Illness (NAMI). Dual diagnosis is also known as co-existing or co-occurring disorders.

Debate exists in the medical community as to the propriety of utilizing such a broad category as dual diagnosis. The debate arises because that single group that is comprised of individuals with a myriad of substance abuse and mental health issues, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Co-occurring disorders include mental health problems ranging from mild depression to schizophrenia. Additionally, co-existing disorders include substance abuse issues ranging from alcohol or marijuana abuse to full-blown heroin or meth addiction. Nonetheless, the broad classification is considered helpful in identifying individuals who are in need of both mental health and addiction recovery assistance.

The Prevalence of Dual Diagnosis

Co-occurring disorders are relatively commonplace today. The U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that between 17 and 18 percent of individuals with a diagnosed mental health disorder was also suffering from a substance abuse or addiction problem. Health Canada undertook similar research which revealed that the rate of co-existing disorders in that country is a bit higher than that experienced in the United States.

Certain mental illnesses have a higher correlation with substance abuse, according to the National Comorbidity Survey, as reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry; 47 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia had a coexisting substance abuse or addiction issue. On the other hand, 20 percent of those who abuse or are addicted to alcohol also labor under a mental health disorder.

No significant deviation in the rate of dual diagnosis is apparent across the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA). For example, the rate of co-existing disorders in Jersey City, New Jersey, is consistent with what is found elsewhere in the country.

Treatments Available for Dual Diagnosis

Specialized co-occurring disorder treatment programs are more common in today’s world. In addition, a majority of drug rehab centers now include a treatment track with a focus on co-existing disorders, according to NIDA.

Only a small percentage of individuals laboring under a dual diagnosis receive appropriate treatment. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, only about 12 percent of individuals afflicted with a substance abuse or addiction problem and a co-existing mental health disorder receive any type of treatment whatsoever.

The crux of a dual diagnosis treatment program is addressing both the substance abuse or addiction issue and the mental health disorder in a comprehensive and complete manner. The failure to recognize and address both elements of the diagnosis results in the person quickly relapsing on mind-altering substances or falling back into an active state of mental illness. Specific treatment regimens associated with co-existing disorders include psychotherapy, addiction counseling, psychopharmacology and, behavior modification and management.

Aftercare and Co-Existing Disorders

A strong aftercare program is crucial to an overall course of treatment for co-occurring disorders. During a primary addiction treatment program, attention is paid to developing a comprehensive aftercare program that includes ongoing mental health and addiction counseling or therapy, supportive services and medications as needed to an associate mental health disorder.

As is the case with primary treatment for co-occurring disorders, specialized aftercare programs are widely available in the U.S. and other countries the world over. Many of these programs are provided through treatment centers, others through organizations like community mental health centers.