Coexisting / Dual Diagnosis

Coexisting / Dual Diagnosis

Individuals with both an alcohol or drug problem, and an emotional or psychiatric problem is said to have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. These conditions exist together frequently.

In particular, alcohol and drug problems are likely to occur with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders

How Common are Co-occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are more common than you may think. According to a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association:

37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29% abuse either alcohol or drugs.

With Co-occurring disorder, the emotional or substance abuse problem can be primary. Sometimes the psychological problem takes place first. This can lead someone to use alcohol or drugs to make them feel temporarily calmer or happier. Doctors commonly refer to this practice as “self-medication.”

In other cases, the substance abuse occurs first. A person whose substance abuse problem has become serious may develop symptoms of a psychiatric disorder: perhaps periods of depression, fits of rage, hallucinations, or suicide attempts.

Is there help?

Yes. To recover fully, a person with a co-occurring disorder must take care of both conditions. First, the person must go through detoxification. Ideally, this should occur under medical supervision. The length of time for detoxification depends on age, weight, height, the amount of substance abuse, and length of time it has been taking place. The next action is rehabilitation for the substance problem, and treatment for the mental disorder. This step may include medicines, support groups and talk therapy.

Information provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, National Institutes of Health & Mental Health America

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