Addiction and Mental Health – Exploring the Link and How People Break Free

By  //  July 10, 2022

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You may have occasionally heard someone who works in addiction speak about ‘dual diagnosis’ but are unsure exactly what it means. Simply put, someone with dual diagnosis has both a mental health problem and an addiction to drugs or alcohol. 

Statistics around dual diagnosis show how strongly related mental health and substance abuse is. Around 50% of people with severe mental health problems also have substance abuse problems or are dependent on a substance. In addition, 37% of people who are either dependent on or abuse alcohol have at least one mental health illness. That figure is 53% for people who are dependent on or abuse street drugs.

If you have a dual diagnosis, getting clean from substances can be particularly challenging. You must deal with your addiction and mental health problems at the same time. For this reason, it is usually recommended that people with dual diagnosis attend a rehab that can address both of these issues at once. 

What Causes Dual Diagnosis?

There is no one answer to this question as the causes of dual diagnosis are complex. Mental health problems and substance abuse often share risk factors, such as:

■ Poverty

■ Trauma or neglect during childhood

■ Certain genes

It’s thought that people who have mental health problems might turn to substances as a way of self-medicating. For example, someone who is struggling with anxiety might drink alcohol to calm their nerves. However, this quickly leads to a spiral of addiction and further mental health problems.

How Common Is Dual Diagnosis?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that around 8 million adults in the United States have dual diagnosis. This figure is around 4% of the adult population.

What Are the Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis?

The symptoms of dual diagnosis will depend on both the mental health problem and the addiction. However, there are some general signs that someone may have dual diagnosis, including:

■ A sudden change in behavior, such as becoming more withdrawn or aggressive

■ Problems at work or school

■ Relationship difficulties

■ Financial problems

■ Legal problems

It’s important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by other things. If you are concerned that someone you know may have dual diagnosis, the best thing to do is to encourage them to see a doctor.

What Are the Most Common Mental Health Problems Associated With Dual Diagnosis?

There are many different mental health problems that can be associated with dual diagnosis. However, some of the most common include:

■ Anxiety disorders

■ Depression

■ Bipolar disorder

■ Schizophrenia

■ Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated?

The most effective way to treat dual diagnosis is with a coordinated approach that addresses both the addiction and the mental health problem. This is often done through an inpatient treatment program that lasts for several weeks. During treatment, you will receive counseling and therapy to address both your addiction and your mental health problem. You may also be prescribed medication to help stabilize your mental health.

After you complete treatment, it is important to stay involved in a support group or therapy program. This will help you stay on track with your recovery.

Why Is It Difficult to Treat Dual Diagnosis by Yourself?

Treating dual diagnosis by yourself is difficult because it requires dealing with both the addiction and the mental health problem at the same time. This can be overwhelming and lead to relapse. Treatment programs that address both the addiction and the mental health problem are more successful.

What Difficulties Do People With Dual Diagnosis Face?

People with dual diagnosis often face many challenges. These can include:

– Stigma: Both mental health problems and substance abuse carry a stigma. This can make it difficult for people to seek help.

– Difficulty finding treatment: Not all treatment programs are equipped to deal with dual diagnosis. This can make it difficult to find the help you need.

– High relapse rate: The relapse rate for dual diagnosis is high. This is because it can be difficult to stay sober when you are also dealing with a mental health problem.

– Comorbidity: Dual diagnosis often occurs alongside other mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders and depression. This can make treatment more difficult.

Why Can Mental Illness Not Be Diagnosed While Someone Is Using Drugs?

It can be difficult to diagnose mental illness in people who are using drugs because the symptoms of mental illness can be masked by the effects of the drugs. For example, someone who is using cocaine may seem hyperactive and happy, when in reality they are experiencing a manic episode. It is important to get sober before seeking help for a mental health problem.

Which Medicines Are Used to Treat the Mental Illness That Occurs With Dual Diagnosis?

There are many different medications that can be used to treat the mental illness that occurs with dual diagnosis. Some of the most common include:

■ Antidepressants: These are used to treat depression.

■ Mood stabilizers: These are used to treat bipolar disorder.

■ Antipsychotics: These are used to treat schizophrenia.

■ Benzodiazepines: These are used to treat anxiety disorders.

Why Is It Difficult to Stay Clean With Dual Diagnosis?

It can be more difficult to stay clean with dual diagnosis because you have to deal with both the addiction and the mental health problem. This can be overwhelming and lead to relapse.

Someone who has dual diagnosis may have chronic anxiety and is also addicted to Xanax. To find recovery, this person must stop taking Xanax and deal with the underlying reasons behind their anxiety. There is an additional difficulty in coming off Xanax as Xanax can have a rebound effect, where when usage is ceased, there is increased anxiety. The length of time that this rebound effect occurs depends on the drugs used, the amounts used, and the length of time that they were used for.

Treatment programs that address both addiction and mental health problem are more successful. 


Dual diagnosis is a difficult condition to deal with, but it is possible to get treatment and recover. The most important thing is to seek help from a qualified professional who can address both the addiction and the mental health problem. With treatment, you can overcome dual diagnosis and live a healthy and happy life.