Understanding Dual Diagnosis: The Co-Occurrence of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

By Corey Phillips

Mental illness and substance abuse are two complex issues that have a significant impact on individuals, families, and communities. When these two conditions occur together, it is known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States experience both a mental illness and a substance use disorder in a given year. However, despite the prevalence of dual diagnosis, it can be challenging to diagnose and treat due to the complexity of symptoms and underlying causes.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis refers to the presence of both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder at the same time. Mental health disorders that commonly co-occur with substance abuse include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Substance abuse can involve any type of drug or alcohol misuse that interferes with daily life functioning. Common substances abused include alcohol, opioids such as heroin or prescription painkillers, cocaine or crack cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine or other stimulants.

Challenges in Diagnosing Dual Diagnosis

Diagnosing dual diagnosis can be challenging because each condition can mimic symptoms of the other. For example, someone with depression may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their emotional pain.

Additionally, people who struggle with addiction often experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using drugs or alcohol which can mimic symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety or depression.

Another challenge is that people with co-occurring disorders may not seek treatment for either condition out of fear or shame.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Effective treatment for dual diagnosis requires an integrated approach that addresses both conditions simultaneously. Treatment plans should be tailored to meet each individual’s unique needs based on their medical history and the severity of their conditions.

Treatment options may include medication-assisted therapy (MAT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy sessions aimed at relapse prevention strategies; family therapy; support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA); among others.


Dual diagnosis is a complex issue that requires specialized care from qualified professionals who understand how to address both mental health disorders along with addiction concerns. Seeking help early on can improve one’s chances of achieving long-term recovery from both conditions simultaneously.

If you suspect you have a co-occurring disorder yourself or know someone who does, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from qualified professionals in your area.


Corey Phillips
PR and Community Relations Specialist
Iris Healing
23033 Ostronic Dr. Woodland Hills, CA 91367  

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