Dual diagnosis is a broad category of mental illness wherein a person suffers from more than one coexisting disorders, usually a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety and substance abuse problem like addiction to drug or alcohol. Also termed as comorbidity or co-occurring disorders, it may affect an individual physically, psychologically and socially.

It is difficult to determine which problem led to the other, as any of the two – mental illness and substance abuse – can develop first. A person experiencing a mental illness may turn to alcohol or drugs to improve the troubling symptoms they experience. However, substance abuse only worsens those symptoms. At the same time, abusing substances can also lead to mental health problems because of the effects drugs have on the person’s mood, behavior and brain chemistry.

Addictions are chronic, deteriorating brain

Disorders that change the brain functioning – with effects of drugs being much harmful, and often, self-destructive to the brain. According to a 2014 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addictions cost America more than $800 billion annually and causes nearly 90,000 deaths.

As the identification of mental illness in substance abusers is difficult, it is hard to determine if an individual is actually dealing with a dual diagnosis, unless the addiction has been adequately taken care of.

To this end, the International Conference and Exhibition on Dual Diagnosis, with theme “Research strategies, advanced technologies and innovations in Dual Diagnosis,” will be held on July 18-19, 2016 in Chicago. It is aimed at achieving addiction recovery and eliminating psychiatry problems.

How to identify if someone has co-occurring disorders?

In dual diagnosis, about a third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses experience substance abuse, with both having their own unique symptoms. Individuals suffering from a dual diagnosis often face a wide range of psychosocial issues and may experience multiple interacting illnesses, so prevalence rates for this disorder are difficult to identify.

A person may encounter a variety of problems as a result of a dual diagnosis, and it takes time to determine what might cause either conditions. Although substance abuse and mental disorders are closely link, one may not necessarily influence the other. The following symptoms can help identify if there is a reason to seek help:


  • A person may mask the psychiatric symptoms by alcohol or drug use.
  • The patient’s addiction to a drug or withdrawal from it can give the appearance of some psychiatric illness.
  • Psychiatric symptoms can occur due to an untreated chemical dependence.
  • On noticing withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Sudden changes in behavior; engaging in risky behaviors when high.
  • Using substances under dangerous conditions; loss of control over use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms; feeling as if the person needs any addictive substance to be able to function.


Treating dual diagnosis

Irrespective of which problem develop first, both the mental illness and addiction need to be treat simultaneously. The integrated intervention is the most common and the best way of treating dual diagnosis. Since there are various factors leading to a dual diagnosis, the treatment also may vary from person to person. However, each patient must receive care for the specific mental illness and the substance abuse at the same time.

The treatment involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-help and support groups. Of late, role of genetic factors in the development of coexisting disorders has receive a great deal of attention, with positive family history being consider a major risk factor for children.

According to a 2015 report by Substance Abuse and Mental. Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 8.9 million adults have co-occurring disorders and only. 7.4 percent of individuals receive treatment for both conditions, with 55.8 percent receiving no treatment at all.

“To help explain this comorbidity, we need to first recognize that drug addiction is a mental illness. It is a complex brain disease characterize by compulsive. At times uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use despite devastating consequences. Behaviors that stem from drug-induce changes in brain structure and function,” says NIDA director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.