It is not unusual for someone with addiction issues to also be suffering from a mental health disorder. Sometimes, the condition is present before addiction and in other cases, is a direct result of prolonged abuse of alcohol or drugs. These cases are known as dual diagnosis, which works on the premise that once two concurrent conditions are identified, they require separate but simultaneous treatment at a qualified dual diagnosis treatment center.

The most important thing to establish in dual diagnosis treatment is what condition came first. There are three main theories as to why it is so common to have concurrent mental health issues and addiction, as follows:


This is a theory based on mental illness pre-existing addiction and that substance or alcohol use began as a need to self-medicate its distressing symptoms. For example, someone suffering from anxiety may feel compelled to turn to drugs or drink to calm or relax them in difficult situations. Often in these situations, others may become aware of a more obvious problem with alcohol and drugs than they are of any underlying mental health condition, which can serve to alienate a sufferer from those close to them. When drugs and drink are used to deal with symptoms of mental illness, using can become an automatic response to certain stimuli and negative habits can form, leading to full-blown addiction.

The Common Vulnerability Model

This theory acknowledges the presence of addiction and mental illness at the same time and identifies both conditions to have developed from the same underlying psychological issue. Medical research has identified that there are some brain function deficits and structures that are linked to both conditions that combine to create vulnerability in a patient for developing dual-diagnosis. There are other contributing factors that may lead to concurrent mental illness and addiction, such as childhood trauma or abuse, family history or specific stress factors created by a patient’s environment or personal circumstances.

Mental Illness Resulting from Addiction

The third theory behind the prevalence of dual diagnosis is that symptoms of mental illness can be caused by substance or alcohol abuse. It is widely accepted that alcohol and drugs like marijuana act as depressants by slowing down the function of the brain which reduces stimulus from the nervous system, creating a lethargic, lackluster effect. Some medical researchers believe that it is through prolonged use of a depressant substance that genuine symptoms of mental health can result. This theory works on the premise that substance abuse pre-existed any addiction issues.

In general, mental health experts are generally in agreement that there is often a little of all three theories or explanations occurring at the same time in dual diagnosis, although the debate continues.


Over the last two decades, specialist dual diagnosis treatment has become more widely available, in recognition of the importance of treating each disorder at the same time. The importance of comprehensive assessment in the initial stages of treatment is not to be underestimated, as it serves to accurately diagnose each patient and enable clinicians to design and prescribe the most appropriate course of treatment in individual cases.

Dual diagnosis treatment seeks to achieve the following:

  • Tandem treatment of both mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders by professionals who are expert in both areas.
  • Effective use of psychotropic medication within the parameters of dual-diagnosis such as anti-depressants, anti-anxiety or anti-psychosis drugs.
  • Supportive and completely non-judgmental treatment of both disorders
  • Extensive counseling and the full inclusion of family in the therapy process for a better understanding of the challenges their loved one faces while attending a dual diagnosis treatment facility and in recovery afterward.


People struggling with both mental illness and addiction issues can be left feeling extremely isolated and misunderstood, which often emanates from their own misunderstanding of what they’re going through. Dual diagnosis treatment centers have evolved a lot in recent years and once patients have been accurately diagnosed, it is not uncommon for them to feel hugely relieved that there is something that can be done to treat them. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is rarely a lifestyle choice and often a distinct red flag of underlying issues that someone has become unable to deal with. Dual diagnosis rehab provides the perfect environment for patients to get the treatment they need to overcome addiction issues while addressing their mental health issues at the same time.