A Comprehensive Guide To Dual Diagnosis

Ian Henyon, LPC   |   May 8, 2024

When listening to stories from those with mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders, it may not come to mind that someone can battle both of these things at the same time. Unfortunately, this is more common than we might think. Studies have shown direct links between these two diagnose

When listening to stories from those with mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders, it may not come to mind that someone can battle both of these things at the same time. Unfortunately, this is more common than we might think. Studies have shown direct links between these two diagnoses. In fact, about half of people who struggle with mental illness will have a substance use disorder or the other way around. Dual diagnosis can make addiction recovery seem impossible. However, that could not be further from the truth. While it may be more challenging to overcome a dual diagnosis, it is definitely possible.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis, or a co-occurring disorder, is when a person experiences both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder simultaneously. Both substance use disorders and mental health disorders are powerful in their own respects. However, they can both lead to more severe issues down the road.

It is not uncommon for a person with a substance use disorder to develop a mental health issue or vice versa. The link between the two is complex because every person’s story is different. No one thing is to blame for either of these disorders. Rather, there are several factors that play a role in the development of either of these disorders, let alone a dual diagnosis.

The Challenges of Dual Diagnosis

Both mental illness and substance abuse come with their challenges. However, when put together, new issues arise while the initial challenges become enhanced. Here are some examples of problems that may arise with dual diagnoses.

  • A constant cycle of relapse into either issue. Taking a step back from one treatment can cause a loss of progress in both.
  • Trouble managing the symptoms of both disorders
  • Issues finding medications that work well with both disorders
What Comes First: Drugs or Mental Health?

So, what causes what? The question on everyone’s mind is which comes first. Does substance abuse cause mental illness or vice versa?

There is no sure way to determine which one comes first. This is partially because every person has a different story. While some people may have had a mental health disorder first, others may have had a substance use disorder that lead to a mental health issue.

When Mental Illness Came First

If someone struggles with a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, they may begin using drugs as a way to self-medicate. Substances are known to give its users a relaxing feeling. In this scenario, those with mental illness may use substances to cope with the symptoms of their illness.

When Substance Abuse Came First

On the other hand, when a person has become addicted to a substance, the prolonged effects of the substance use can result in a mental health disorder. Addiction can lead to changes in brain chemistry. These changes can lead to issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Schizophrenia
What Are the Treatments Available for Dual Diagnosis?

Dual-diagnosis treatment is all about addressing both issues in a way that does not work against the other. Treatments are based on the conditions each person brings to the table.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to co-occurring disorders. In treatment, it doesn’t matter which came first. Instead, treatment is focused on effectively treating both disorders in a way that can be sustained in the long term. Some examples of treatment options that may be recommended include the following:

  • Medication
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Peer groups
  • Detoxing
  • Withdrawal management
  • Behavioral therapy
Finding the Right Treatment Program

Treating dual diagnosis is a sensitive matter, and it should be treated as such. Recovery is a lifelong journey, so it is important to choose the right team to help you through this difficult time. Here are some things to consider when looking for the right treatment center.


When searching for a treatment program, it is essential to ensure that they are appropriately licensed and accredited in the treatment of dual diagnoses. Not only should they have experience treating substance use disorders or mental illnesses, but they should also have experience in treating both concurrently.

Coordinated Care

Treatment programs should offer coordinated care so there is no lapse in treatment. This means the treatment center will communicate effectively across the care team. This will ensure that patients are receiving intentional and compassionate care from every person on their care team.


Addiction recovery does not matter overnight. Even after treatment is done, most people will need help staying on the right track to avoid relapse. This is especially true in dual diagnosis treatment. Not only are these patients fighting against substance addiction, they are also battling mental health disorders.

The right treatment center will offer aftercare programs and resources. This will be beneficial in learning healthy coping skills and reducing the chances of relapse. The right treatment center will also help patients learn more about their disorders and the role it plays in their lives. They will be able to help with employment and finding other resources that will help with staying on the path to long-term recovery.

Treat Your Dual Diagnosis at Birmingham’s Finest Recovery Center

Birmingham Recovery Center is a trusted Recovery Center in Birmingham, AL, that offers comprehensive treatment services for those who need them. A dual diagnosis is nothing to be ashamed of. At Birmingham Recovery Center, we do everything in our power to help our patients stay on the path to recovery. Whether they struggle with a mental illness or substance use disorder, we are here to help.

Our team of experienced experts is dedicated to helping individuals and their families find long-term recovery through evidence-based treatment plans and personalized care. We treat all our clients with patience and understanding.

For more information about dual diagnosis or any of our other offered services, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are here to help you or your loved one regain control of their life.

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About the Author

Having worked in a variety of clinical settings since 2008, Ian brings well over a decade of treatment center experience to the leadership role at Birmingham Recovery Center. As Executive Director, he is responsible for all aspects of BRC’s operations and provision of services. Being firmly grounded in the notion of servant leadership, Ian is focused on establishing a supportive work environment as a foundation for providing superior clinical services...

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