dual diagnosis patient with blurred out face

Treating Dual Diagnosis: Why It's Important


Sober Recovery Expert Author

dual diagnosis patient with blurred out face

A dual diagnosis is defined as a person having a substance abuse problem in tandem with a psychological or personality disorder. This isn’t a rare occurrence. In fact, according to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 37 percent of alcoholics and 53 percent of drug addicts have at least one serious mental illness and of all the people diagnosed with a mental disorder, 29 percent are also drug or alcohol abusers.

Treatment Availability

Even with the staggering statistics, dual diagnosis treatments are a relatively new concept in the field of addiction treatment. Before 1990, substance abusers who were exhibiting signs of mental illness were treated separately from their fellow abusers that did not exhibit such behaviors.

A dual diagnosis is defined as a person having a substance abuse problem in tandem with a psychological or personality disorder.

The overlapping conditions of patients with both mental disorders and substance abuse were denied treatment for the mental disorders until they became completely sober. This was a tragic error in treatment philosophy as it has been recently discovered that substance abuse can often be driven by at least one psychiatric disorder. So, prior to the 1990s, people with a dual diagnosis simply did not fully get treated for either disorder.

Making Progress

Today, treatment centers offering dual diagnosis recovery blend the most successful aspects of mental health care with the most effective substance abuse treatments. The two areas of medical disorders are not treated separately but together as part of a whole treatment system. The medical staff at a dual diagnosis center has completed training and earned credentials in both therapeutic addictive treatments and treatments of mental health disorders.

Many of the foremost substance abuse centers offer recovery services personalized for their dual diagnosis clients. The most effective treatments for patients should include the following:

  • Treatments given for both mental disorders and addiction administered simultaneously
  • Appropriate medications prescribed for the co-occurring ailments
  • Therapy that builds up the patient’s self-esteem and self-worth and never tears him down
  • Inclusive therapies that bring family members, significant others and valued associates into the treatment process

Who’s the Patient?

Dual diagnosis patients meet the criteria for a mental health disorder as defined by the most current version of “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” published by the American Psychiatric Association. This is the bible for all mental disorder diagnoses, dual or not.

The signs of addiction to legal or illegal substances are more commonly known and generally consist of a person who continues abusing the chosen substance even in the face of their deteriorating domestic, career and social responsibilities. The addict will continue to increase the abuse of the harmful substance rather than decrease consumption even though he or she knows the addictive behavior is ruining his or her life as well as the lives of the ones they care about the most.

Put the description of an addictive personality together with the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of a person with a mental disorder and it becomes easy to understand why the dual diagnosis patient is in dire need of immediate treatment.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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