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What is Dual Diagnosis and how common is it?

When one experiences a severe mental illness and an addiction (substance abuse) either to alcohol or drugs simultaneously it is called as Dual diagnosis. Either substance abuse or mental illness can develop first. A person with substance addiction can lead to mental health problems because of the effects of drugs on a person’s moods, thoughts, brain chemistry and behavior. Similarly a person with mental illness may turn to drugs and alcohol to improve their troubling mental health symptoms as a form of self-medication which in turn only make the symptoms of mental health conditions worse.

The Substance Addiction includes Alcohol, Stimulants, Hallucinogens, Opioids, Inhalants, Marijuana and Tobacco, while Process Addiction include Gambling, Sex, Internet and Gaming. Severe mental illness include Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Personality Disorders, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Dementia.

About one third of all people experiencing mental illnesses and about half of people with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse, whereas about one third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of all drug abusers report experiencing a mental illness. Men are more likely to develop dual disorder than women.

A person who has a dual diagnosis has to deal with two separate illnesses, and each illness needs its own treatment plan. When both illnesses are treated, by one team, the chances for a full and lasting recovery are greatly improved, and it is easier to return to a full and productive life. When either one illness is treated, it makes the other worse.

What are the different treatment methods?

The most common method of treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention, where a person receives care for both illnesses. Since there are many ways in which a dual diagnosis may occur treatment will also differ for each.


During inpatient detoxification, a person is monitored 24/7 by a trained medical staff for up to 7 days. They administer tapering amounts of the substance or its medical alternative in order to lessen the effects of withdrawal. Inpatient detoxification is generally more effective than outpatient detoxification because inpatient treatment provides a consistent environment and removes the person battling addiction from exposure to people and places.

Inpatient Rehabilitation:

A person experiencing a serious mental illness and a dangerous substance abuse may benefit most from an inpatient rehabilitation center like SARVAM where one can receive concentrated medical and mental health care 24/7. SARVAM provides the individual with therapy, support, medication and health services with the goal of treating the addiction and its underlying causes.


Medication is a useful tool for treating a variety of mental illnesses. Depending on the symptoms, different mental health medications may play an important role on one’s recovery. Certain medications are helpful for people experiencing substance abuse to ease their withdrawal symptoms and promote recovery. These medications are used during the detoxification process, which produces similar effects in the body as certain addictive drugs.


Psychotherapy is another effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. Education on a person’s illness and how their beliefs and behaviors influence their thoughts has shown to improve the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is effective in helping people with dual diagnosis to learn how to cope and change their ineffective patterns of thinking.

Self-Help and Support Groups:

Dealing with a dual diagnosis can be challenging and isolating. Support groups allow members to share frustrations, successes, referrals for specialists, where to find the best community resources and tips on what works best for their easy and quick recover. They build a positive relationship with the patient, provide encouragement and emphasis on cleanliness.