Dual diagnosis is a condition where someone suffers from a mental illness and addiction simultaneously. It is quite common, and it’s estimated that over 7.9 million Americans suffer from it. The reason behind this large number is the lack of treatment for people with mental health disorders. As a result, this concern predisposes those affected to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

If you or a loved one need help now please call 772-774-3872 or click here to use your insurance benefits to start treatment.

Dual diagnosis is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are often overlooked. Besides, it is tough to single out the exact cause of dual diagnosis in every person. However, what’s clear is that those who have some mental disorder tend to be dependent on drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. When self-medication manifests for an extended period, people develop substance addiction. The substances become part of their life, requiring them to function ‘normally’ every day. The only treatment is substance addiction therapy.

What Mental Disorders Are Associated with Dual Diagnosis?

Some common mental illnesses include addictive personality disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, trauma/PTSD, OCD, personality disorders, schizophrenia, ADHD, eating disorders, and somatic symptom disorder. Each of these disorders calls for different methods of treating the underlying condition.

A woman with anxiety disorder

Anxiety Disorders

Everyone worries about something, be it our jobs, families, friends, relationships, or finances. Worrying is normal and can be a positive force pushing us to accomplish our goals. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorder is common and manifests in around 3.1 percent of Americans. People diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder are likely to use alcohol, opioids, and other drugs to curb anxiety resulting in co-occurring disorders.

a man with depression


Depression is expressed by consistently depressed moods, constant worry, and loss of interest in daily activities. People struggling with this issue may lose interest in certain day-to-day activities. It is usual for people with depression to result in substance abuse. They do this to escape the sequence of worry and mood loss they experience in their lives.

bipolar patient at a dual diagnosis treatment center

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is characterized by heightened mood swings, reciprocating between lows and highs. The lows are called depression, while the highs are called mania. The affected people will often show signs of extreme happiness or moodiness, which reciprocate regularly. People with this disorder can result in substance abuse to avoid the associated symptoms.

Young soldier experiencing PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental disorder caused by traumatic events. These events can either be experienced or witnessed. The main symptoms of PTSD are nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, and stress due to uncontrollable thinking. People with PTSD often end up turning to drugs and substances in an attempt to curb those symptoms resulting in co-occurring disorders.

individualized treatment plans for OCD and addiction

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive disorder is a medical disorder where one has unmanageable, reoccurring thoughts, and compulsions that make them compelled to redo repeatedly. People affected by this condition often urge to take part in repeated actions like hand washing, counting items and organizing.

Engaging in these tasks provides short-term relief, but anxiety comes back soon after stopping the tasks. The affected people may turn to alcohol or drug intoxication to escape the reoccurring, irrational thoughts. If not treated, OCD combined with drug abuse may lead to co-occurring substance abuse problems.

man with personality disorder

Personality Disorders

A personality disorder is a form of mental illness where the person affected has a fixed and unhealthy style of thinking, behaving, and functioning. A personality disorder may lead to impairment or distress.

The person affected could turn to substances, resulting in addiction as an attempt to control their disorder. Suppose the person affected becomes addicted to drugs, and they do not seek medical assistance. In that case, the personality disorder combined with co-occurring substance abuse may get worse.

man with schizophrenia and addiction


Schizophrenia is a mental disorder where the person affected cannot feel, think, and behave correctly. These people tend to interpret reality abnormally. They may feel the need to indulge in substance abuse to curb this disorder often leading to co-occurring disorders.

man with adhd and addiction

Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a mental condition where the person affected has persistent problems such as hyperactivity, attention difficulty, and impulsiveness. This often results in substance abuse as a means to control the disorder. Once addicted, ADHD, and continued substance abuse lead to dual diagnosis.

What Causes Dual Diagnosis?

Excessive use of drugs and alcohol can contribute to dual diagnosis. The reason is that addiction isn’t something anyone would be proud of, and often, people struggling with it will try to quit. The shame of their social image and the stigma associated with their addiction can cause issues if they don’t seek mental health treatment.

This issue can quickly escalate, driving them over the edge, and subsequently, developing mental illnesses once they become addicted. When disorders grow out of control, substance use tends to increase heavily, creating a vicious cycle of dependence.

Other factors that contribute are biological, physical, psychological, and environmental factors. These factors are thought to be the leading causes of concurrent mental disorders and substance addiction.

graphics of undiagnosed mental health disorders bipolar

Biological Factors

Biological factors, also known as genetic factors, can cause substance addiction or mental health disorders. A child developing a dual diagnosis, born from parents struggling with disorders and substance addiction, is highly probable. The reasoning behind this is that genetics plays a massive role in the child’s life. How they handle mental health issues or substances in their lives can be dictated by genetics.

The chances of an addicted parent passing on the trait to their children are high. Likewise, the chances of a mental disorder being passed down to a child are high. During their life, an adult addict’s child is likely to develop signs of addiction.

Physical Factors

Physical factors, such as physical health and financial issues, can also contribute to dual diagnosis. Terminal illnesses, for example, are life-threatening, and the thought of dying can be daunting, thus predisposing someone to mental disorders. It can also predispose the individual to substance abuse as a method of coping with pain. Without the right support and counseling, either the addiction or mental health issues can lead to dual diagnosis.

Besides, economic hardships and financial issues can contribute to dual diagnosis. Financial problems may ensue after experiencing job loss, and these concerns can lead to mental disorders and substance addiction. Those facing economic hardships tend to abuse drugs in an attempt to ‘escape’ their cruel reality.

If the situation prevails, it can easily lead to dependence and addiction. Likewise, financial problems can lead to depression and other concerns of mental illnesses, which can easily predispose someone to self-medicate. It also leads to addiction if not checked, contributing to dual diagnosis.

Psychological Factors

It is common for people with psychological disorders to resort to substance abuse to feel better. This ‘feel better’ concern is often referred to as self-medication. Self-medication leads to addiction because drugs lead to abnormal secretion of neurotransmitters in the brain, making the user feel high. Most people love the feeling, and it can quickly contribute to addiction.

Those with mental disorders become addicted because they find a way to escape the pain. They may, therefore, form a habit of resulting in drugs or substances to help ease the mental health disorders, and thereby, they eventually become addicts.

Environmental Factors

Specific issues, like traumatic events, especially during childhood, can contribute to dual diagnosis. Chronic stress and post-traumatic stress can lead to mental health disorders and addiction.

The reasoning behind environmental factors predisposing someone to dual diagnosis is the need to look for quick fixes. Children exposed to violence, deaths, rape, or other problems can develop trauma. As adults, they can result in drug abuse to “fix” their trauma.

Those experiencing post-traumatic stress (PTSD), can turn to drugs in an attempt to fix their mental disorders. The same can also be said for those with chronic anxiety. Others even result in abusing clinical drugs such as opioids to self-medicate and get quick relief.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis Disorders?

Dual diagnosis is a condition affecting millions of people all over the globe. However, it is a condition that is tough to spot, and therefore it can affect anybody unknowingly. However, there are signs and symptoms of dual diagnosis that might help you identify the condition, which includes:

  • Mood swings
  • Inability to control emotions
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Mistrust and paranoia, and secretiveness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Mental health issues causing substance abuse
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Verify Your Insurance

If you have coverage of any kind from a major insurance provider, your treatment is likely covered. We promise to keep your information confidential.

Verify Your Insurance

If you have coverage of any kind from a major insurance provider, your treatment is likely covered. We promise to keep your information confidential.

How Dual Diagnosis Treatment Centers Can Help

Those showing signs and symptoms of dual diagnosis should seek medical assistance at a substance abuse treatment center. There are several ways to treat dual diagnosis, which include:

Drug and Alcohol Detox

Medical detox is the first step in substance abuse treatment. The main goal of drug and alcohol detox is to manage the withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox is accompanied by a medical professional to make sure the individual is safe and comfortable.

Oftentimes withdrawal symptoms can be a painful and uncomfortable process. Medical detox seeks to alleviate those symptoms and rid toxins from the patient’s body. The length of time in detox depends on the addiction type and how long the individual was addicted.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment or inpatient treatment is a therapy process practiced in a safe, comfortable and supervised environment. It helps patients recover in a safe environment, with a medical professional available 24/7. It is useful and recommended for those with chronic addictions.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is for those who are mildly suffering from substance addiction and mental illness on a reporting basis. Those diagnosed with co-occurring disorders and go to a dual diagnosis treatment facility receive the treatment necessary from a medical professional, and then go home. Outpatient treatment is recommended for those on the path to recovery and show low relapsing risks.

group therapy session

Individual and Group Therapy

Individual therapy involves a session with a professional therapist who counsels the patient on a personal level. Group therapy entails sitting in a group with other peers sharing their experiences. It helps members relate to each other and find strength in one another. They encourage one another, and it allows patients to find solace in that they are not the only ones experiencing some issues.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also practiced to help identify the causing factors that influence the user’s substance use. It educates patients on what triggers addiction and how to avoid or manage it.

Holistic or Alternative Treatment

Our dual diagnosis treatment center offers holistic treatment options that concentrates not only on the disorders but also on the entire person. The addressed elements include emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental aspects to solve the affected individual’s underlying disorder. This dual diagnosis treatment is aimed at making the affected patient whole.

The Essential Guide to Best Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug and alcohol addiction rarely appears out of the blue. Most people with addictions do not simply choose to continue abusing drugs or alcohol without a reason for doing so. Oftentimes, pre-existing mental illnesses cause, contribute to or exacerbate a person’s addiction. The consumption of drugs or alcohol can also cause, contribute to or worsen an individual’s psychological conditions. When addiction and mental disorder exist simultaneously, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. Any person struggling with both these problematic conditions requires specialized dual diagnosis care administered by qualified trained professionals.

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders, please call 772-774-387 and inquire about our dual diagnosis treatment program at Behavioral Health Centers.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

While it didn’t always have an official term or named condition, mental illnesses and addiction have been linked for decades. Dual diagnosis can range from a person abusing drugs to cope with a preexisting disorder like depression, to someone who developed disorder as a result of using a specific drug over an extended period. No matter what the reason for addiction is, it has been conclusively proven that drugs and alcohol only make symptoms of psychological illnesses worse and can also lead to the development of other mental concerns. [1]

Being that both mental disorder and addiction primarily affect the brain, both conditions play off of each other, and the existence of one makes the occurrence of the other more likely. Symptoms of dual diagnosis vary widely due to there being a virtually endless amount of potential combinations. Here are some common symptoms to look for:

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence
  • Feeling like drugs or alcohol are necessary in order to function
  • Loss of control over substance use and abuse
  • Withdrawal from friends or family

Understanding Dual-Diagnosis

the link between mental illness and addiction

Statistics show that there is a high prevalence of dual diagnoses in America. It’s estimated that 50 percent of people with a mental health disorder also have an addiction problem and that more than half of people with a substance use disorder also have a diagnosable mental illness.

why does addiction co-occur with mental illness so often 400x300 1

Establishing an exact causality or directionality in the relationship between addiction and a mental health disorder is nearly impossible because of the myriad factors that can contribute to either condition.

Even if one condition appeared before the other, it does not mean one was caused by the other. This is because subclinical symptoms of a mental health disorder may prompt drug or alcohol use and people often have imperfect recollections of the exact moment they began abusing.

Common reasons for co-occurrence:

  1. Drugs or alcohol can cause people to experience symptoms of another mental illness
  2. Mental illnesses can lead a person to abuse drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication. This can occur before the individual has a diagnosable mental health condition but is still struggling with subclinical symptoms
  3. Substance use disorders and other mental illnesses are caused by overlapping risk factors, including genetic predisposition, environment and early exposure to trauma

One of the most highly perpetuated errors in the addiction recovery industry is to focus only on a person’s drug or alcohol addiction even when there is knowledge of another preexisting mental condition. Many times this is simply because many addiction rehab facilities do not offer mental health services.

People with dual diagnoses need extra care in order to make progress in rehab. This frequently includes a combination of psychotherapy, behavioral therapies, medication and help from peer-support groups. Any rehab facility that does not include concurrent mental health treatment will be inadequate to help a person with a dual diagnosis.[2]

The first step in dual diagnosis treatment includes a full assessment of the severity of both conditions. This can prove difficult because in many cases, symptoms of one disorder mimic symptoms of the other. The ensuing dual diagnosis treatment stages should provide education to the client and his family about the mental illness and how it interacts with the addiction. Patients should also be taught social skills and healthier coping mechanisms to help them safely navigate through the symptoms of mental illness and stressful situations.

People with dual diagnoses tend to have symptoms that are more persistent, extreme and resistant to treatment than people with a single diagnosis. Additionally, co-occurring disorders tend to be more chronic and have a more severe course of development. Dual diagnosis patients are often exposed to additional environmental risk factors and are limited in what medications they can take because of the potential for abuse.[3]

the obstacles of treatment infographic

One potential problem in providing effective dual diagnosis treatment is that many healthcare providers have minimal training in this area. In these situations, the psychiatrist, physician or addiction care specialist may have focused on one condition or another during their education and training, with only a few classes on the others. Additionally, because many dual diagnosis patients present a large amount of obstacles during rehab, they are often not thought of as good candidates for treatment and have their treatment terminated early or are allowed to dropout prematurely. [4]

The treatment of patients with dual diagnoses can be difficult to approach. Determining how one condition is affecting the other, the severity of each condition on its own, or even determining which condition came first presents a challenge. Both conditions can have conflicting and overlapping symptoms so studying one condition in the immediate presence of the other condition relies on a degree of trial and error.

Of the patients with both a mental illness and a drug addiction, only 7.4 percent get treatment for both conditions.

– Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Research has shown that the best treatment of patients with dual diagnoses are derived from evidence-based practices (EBPs), which have been researched academically or scientifically, proven effective and replicated by more than one study. This treatment model stems from the prioritization of scientifically-proven methods along with individual patient values. There are five steps in the evidence-based practice treatment process[5]:

  1. Assess the patient and discover his or her critical needs
  2. Acquire relevant research including all studies and investigations
  3. Appraise the validity and quality of your research as it applies to the patient
  4. Discuss your findings with the patient and determine how best to approach treatment given his or her values and needs.
  5. Develop a plan that works for the patient and the provider and apply it

Just as co-existing conditions vary, so do their methods of treatment. Some variant EBPs employed in the treatment of different conditions are cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia and depression; exposure therapy for anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and motivational therapy, which is similar to an intervention, for helping patients overcome their substance addictions.[6] Despite the variations in types of evidence-based practices, most EBPs include some form of an integrated intervention, which entails the patient receiving care for both mental illness and addiction. Additionally, many EBPs comprise the same several steps when applied to substance abuse.

  • Detoxification – The patient undergoes withdrawal during this period, either tapering off of the substance that he or she is dependent on or abruptly stopping its use.
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation-Inpatient or Outpatient Rehabilitation
  • Medication– Used to blunt the effects of withdrawal or to help treat and manage symptoms of mental illness.
  • Psychotherapy – All addiction therapy services involve an analysis of the old behavior that led the patient to his or her current situation – a key step in ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself.
  • Support Groups – Maintaining a support system following treatment is vital. Having a forum to share your successes and struggles as well as to hear what others are going through can help you get through the uncertain, early stages of sobriety.

Many patients with undiagnosed mental illnesses attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Whatever substance they use, it seemingly causes their symptoms like restlessness, anxiety, depression, paranoia, neuroses, etc., to become more manageable. However, their symptoms return when the high is over, often more intensely than before.

dependance cycle

This leads to repeated substance abuse, creating a dangerous drug addiction in addition to a pre-existing mental illness. Stopping a substance abuse habit in a patient that also has a mental illness is possible, but it takes time, willpower and therapy. Today, drug addiction is viewed as a mental illness, as both conditions drastically alter the brain.

A drug addiction can form so rapidly in the presence of mental illness due to the nature of how the brain processes pleasure. The brain views all pleasure in the same way, whether it comes from food, money, sex, drugs, etc. No matter the source, pleasure triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens of the brain. However, the consumption of addictive drugs causes a huge amount of dopamine to be released into the brain, resulting in the strongest pleasure reaction. Depending on how quickly, consistently and intensely this reaction takes place, the individual is more or less likely to become addicted to the drug that he or she is abusing.

The consumption of addictive drugs causes a huge amount of dopamine to be released into the brain.

Based on this principle, mental health patients often find themselves with a substance abuse issue long before they are even aware of their undiagnosed mental illness. Oftentimes, patients will know that something is wrong with them and that consuming their drug of choice temporarily makes them feel better. What they don’t know is that they are only making their problem worse and creating a new problem on top of it.

In most cases, these patients have an undiagnosed illness, meaning that they aren’t being treated, leaving it up to them to find a way to manage their symptoms. Undiagnosed mental illness frequently leads to addiction as the patient continually attempts to deal with the symptoms of his or her condition with drugs or alcohol.

the cycle of self medication infographic final v2

Those with mental health conditions are more sensitive to drugs or alcohol, which compounds the degree of their addictions. The most common substances that mental health patients use to self-medicate are alcohol, tobacco, cocaine and marijuana. In addition to the increased risk of addiction among all those with mental illnesses, certain mental disorders have higher substance abuse rates than others.

Other mental health disorders that commonly occur with drug addictions are depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.[7]

A drug addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, rearranging a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and wants and introducing new priorities associated with acquiring and using the substance of abuse.

Addiction changes the brain, disturbing the normal hierarchy of needs and desires.

– National Institute on Drug Abuse

The following inability to control impulses preceded by compulsive behavior in spite of life consequences, occurs with numerous mental illnesses as well.[8] The changes to the brain caused bydrug and alcohol abuseare what make addiction amental health disorder.

Under normal circumstances, the brain maintains a delicate balance of chemicals known as neurotransmitters or molecules that enable sections of the brain to communicate with the other sections and ultimately allow the body to regulate its various behaviors. Drug or alcohol consumption leads to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in drowsiness, loss of coordination, euphoria and other common symptoms of intoxication by numerous substances.

In most cases, the brain corrects this imbalance following a period in which it is not exposed to any drugs or alcohol, however, with continued exposure, the brain begins to adapt to the regular changes in its chemical environment. In the case of long-term,severe  drug and alcohol abuse, the brain will assume that it will always maintain a presence of the given substance, meaning that it will begin to rely on the substance for things it would otherwise produce naturally. This chemical inequality is where substance addiction comes in.[10]

In the case of a mental illness co-occurring with a drug addiction, it isn’t apparent if one condition caused the other, regardless of which came first. Even determining which condition was first is difficult as is establishing the cause of either condition. However, research suggests that mental disorders and drug abuse are both capable of leading to the other.

Habitual self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, etc., mental illness or not, is known to lead to dependence followed by addiction. Additionally, predisposed genetic vulnerabilities can result in greater susceptibility to mental illnesses and/or drug addictions either at first or after the initial disorder appears.[11]

In order to achieve a full recovery from drug addiction, treatment must also address mental health. If left untreated, a mental illness that co-occurred with substance abuse could lead a recovery right back to where he or she started.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Behavioral Health Centers

We set ourselves apart at Behavioral Health Centers by offering a combination of treatments and therapies designed to help break the cycle of mental illness and addiction. We understand that dual diagnosis patients face enormous struggles with both addiction and symptoms of one or more psychological disorders. Our understanding uniquely positions us to treat patients with co-occurring disorders.

Each of our patients receive a personalized treatment plan that focuses on his or her specific obstacles to recovery. Our Dual Diagnosis Treatment Includes:

Medical Detox

The patient undergoes withdrawal during this period, either tapering off of the substance that he or she is dependent on or abruptly stopping its use.

Life Skills Training

It’s critical that dual diagnosis patients be taught how to function in everyday society without the aid of drugs and/or alcohol. Treatment at UBH includes preparation for reentry into the “real world.”

Family Program

Just as dual diagnosis patients have to understand how addiction andmental disordersfeed off of one another, it’s equally important that family members understand what their loved one is dealing with. Our family program brings siblings, spouses, parents and children closer together.

Mental Health Expertise

A large portion of addiction patients have been dealing with undiagnosed mental illness for years. Our psychiatry services not only provide valuable insights into our patients’ mental health, but also helps them understand how to manage and treat their conditions better.

Holistic Treatment

Used to blunt the effects of withdrawal or to help treat and manage symptoms of mental illnesses

Dual diagnosis treatment at Behavioral Health Centers begins with a compassionate, medically supervised detox and mental assessment. We then blend holistic remedies with group and individual counseling, psychological services, physical therapy and a traditional 12-step process. Each of our patients receive a personalized treatment plan that focuses on his or her specific obstacles to recovery.

Every patient is different, as is their journey to addiction and rehab. Some may have resorted to drug and alcohol abuse to help deal with symptoms of depression. Others may unknowingly be struggling with undiagnosed schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. No matter what your specific needs are, our mission is to find the dual diagnosis treatment program that will most effectively address them.

Help is just a phone call away for you or a loved one who may have a mental illness and is simultaneously self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Contact our addiction care experts and specialists who will craft a custom rehab program tailored for your specific dual diagnosis treatment needs. You can learn more about our treatment programs or begin rehab by calling us at 772-774-3872.

Our dual diagnosis rehab in Port St. Lucie provides safe, comfortable, and effective treatment to residents across the United States and the following local counties and cities of Okeechobee County, Palm Beach County, Martin County, Jupiter, Stuart, Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, Fort Myers, Tampa, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, and Orlando.

BHC also provides treatment for the following substances: Alcohol, Benzos, Cocaine, Drugs, Fentanyl, Heroin, Meth, and Prescription Drugs.

Behavioral Health Centers is a Joint Commission accredited treatment center located in Port St. Lucie, Florida.


  1. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Substance-Use-Disorders
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/dualdiagnosis.html
  3. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/10-things-you-need-to-know-about-dual-diagnosis-treatment/
  4. https://jdc.jefferson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1233&context=jeffjpsychiatry
  5. https://guides.mclibrary.duke.edu/ebptutorial
  6. https://deploymentpsych.org/treatments
  7. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm
  8. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/introduction
  9. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA77/AA77.htm
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Medically reviewed by:

Dr. K. Dodge, PhD, MSPH, MSW

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