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What Does Dual Diagnosis Mean?

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for alcohol or substance abuse, please call our partner facility today:
The PAC Program
(866) 516-8266


Studies have been conducted that show nearly one-third of people with a mental illness also experience substance use during their lives. Nearly one-third or more of people who abuse alcohol and half of those who abuse drugs have had at least one serious mental health condition in addition to signs of addictive personality. Learn more about the concept of dual diagnosis and what it may mean for you or your loved one.

What is Dual Diagnosis
Dual diagnosis is most often defined by a person living with a psychiatric disorder and substance abuse simultaneously. Depression and alcoholism or panic disorder and painkiller addiction can go hand in hand. Dual diagnosis may also expand to include a psychiatric disorder of any kind. Typically, the initial condition tends to influence the person’s pathway to the second condition. Long-term substance abuse may make way for psychiatric disorders while the problems a person encounters from a disorder are often times alleviated with drugs or alcohol which can lead to abuse. For mental health practitioners, this brings questions up about which conditions came first and how much one diagnosis thrives from one to another.

Origins of Dual Diagnosis
Researchers have theories that might help explain why a person has arrived at a dual diagnosis. Some of these include:

Past-exposure theory – this theory suggests use of non-prescribed psychiatric medications actually cause mental disorders. Also, new exposure to medications can increase sensitivity to effects of drugs and alcohol which might make it easier to become addicted and within less time.

Self-medication theory – theory that suggests those diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve either symptoms of disorder or negative side effects of medications.

Multiple risk factor theory – theory suggests factors such as poverty, social isolation, traumatic life events and association with other substance abusers can lead to psychiatric problems and substance abuse.

Challenges of a Diagnosis
When seeking treatment for more than one condition, it is important to find more than a single root to effectively treat both conditions. While one condition likely induces the other, it is not always clear which came first or if it is merely a symptom of substance abuse or withdrawal. More often than not, symptoms of perceived disorders disappear after eliminating associated substances. A more clear diagnosis can help bring clarity to people and support resolution of mental health disorders. A treatment plan is helpful with the proper program where initial assessments help determine existence of co-occurring substance use and mental health conditions. Dual diagnosis treatment is possible with the right facility and support of experienced staff.

The PAC Program understands mental health and substance use are important to address in young adults facing recovery. Our small community provides an effective setting for recovery from addiction. Call us to find out how we can support your journey to recovery.