What is the Process of Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Struggling with a dual diagnosis is common. Successful dual diagnosis treatment means that both conditions are adequately addressed.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Table of Contents

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis conditions share many overlapping symptoms, and the best opportunity for recovery is to choose a dual diagnosis treatment program to best meet your needs. These conditions are not uncommon. Of the millions of people who struggle with addiction or a mental health disorder, as many as half have a dual diagnosis.

Dual Diagnosis Definition

When you struggle with both a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder and a substance use disorder, it is called a dual diagnosis. Some statistics show as many as half of those who struggle with a mental illness also experience symptoms related to a substance use disorder.

What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

At a dual diagnosis treatment program, your treatment team will work with you to design a plan that addresses all areas of your physical and psychological health. Participating in comprehensive, evidence-based therapy will help you learn how to identify and change the thoughts and behaviors that have led to maladaptive and addictive behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Another significant benefit of choosing a dual-diagnosis treatment program is learning how to identify triggers. When you struggle with a mental health condition, simple day-to-day situations or obligations can be triggering. Learning to manage triggering places, people, or events without self-medicating is a vital part of recovery from a dual diagnosis condition. Learning about and how to use healthy coping strategies to handle triggers is an essential part of ongoing recovery and relapse prevention.

Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders

The terms dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorder are frequently used interchangeably. Although they describe very similar situations, there is a slight difference. A dual diagnosis occurs when someone is diagnosed with two or more conditions that occur at the same time or simultaneously.

Although a dual diagnosis is most often used to describe a mental health condition and a substance use disorder, it can also reference any combination of two separate but concerning conditions. A co-occurring disorder also describes two or more health concerns occurring simultaneously. However, the term co-occurring disorder describes a mental health condition that develops out of substance use or vice versa.

Common Mental Health Disorders

Many common mental health diagnoses frequently co-occur with alcohol abuse or drug addiction.


Depression or major depressive disorder is characterized by overwhelming symptoms of emptiness, sadness, or irritability that affect one’s ability to function in your day-to-day environment. Without treatment, these symptoms can become so overwhelming that they lead to a loss of function at school, work, and home.1

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental conditions that include several diagnoses. Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. Data shows that as many as 19% of the 40 million American adults over age eighteen struggle with anxiety.2

Anxiety is a persistent and ongoing struggle that interferes with your day-to-day life. For many, anxiety symptoms begin as early as childhood and continue into adulthood. There are several anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorders, phobias, generalized anxiety disorders, and separation anxiety.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme shifts or alterations in mood. It is estimated that as many as 2.5 million Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, making it a widespread mental illness in the United States.

Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed when one reaches their early twenties; however, depending on symptoms, diagnoses may occur during childhood or in the teen years as well. Currently, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but mental health treatment can minimize the impact of symptoms.

Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders or disordered eating is a term used to describe complex mental illnesses characterized by abnormal and harmful eating behaviors. The effects of disordered eating do not stop at weight loss or gain.3

They can have a significant and detrimental impact on mental, physical, and psychological health. More than ten thousand Americans lose their lives to complications directly related to disordered eating each year. Additionally, as many as five percent of those who struggle with an eating disorder will attempt suicide.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and unwanted thoughts. These thoughts are called obsessions and co-occur with repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Compulsions may include tasks like counting, hand washing, or checking.

They are performed without fail in hopes of reducing the severity of obsessions. Compulsions are also called rituals. Compulsions significantly interfere with one’s day-to-day activity. However, they cannot stop performing them due to the high level of anxiety failure to complete a ritual cause.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often occurs after someone experiences an event that leads to harm or the threat of harm. Events such as natural disasters, violence, assault, and accidents are all examples of trauma.


Schizophrenia is a chronically recurring mental illness. Although it is treatable, many with schizophrenia will experience recurring symptoms or relapse at some point during their lives. Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, lack of motivation, delusions, cognitive problems, and speech difficulties.4

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a behavioral health disorder that affects how one thinks and feels about others and their thoughts about themselves. These feelings can lead to difficulties managing behavior, emotions and challenges maintaining healthy relationships.5

Common Substance Use Disorders

It is not uncommon for people who struggle with a mental health condition to also struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Although there is little evidence to prove mental health conditions cause addiction or vice versa, significant research indicates a clear link between mental health struggles and substance use disorders. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests nearly 20 million Americans (over the age of twelve) had a substance use disorder in 2017. Of those, approximately 8.5 million also had a mental health condition.6

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health or NSDUH tracks substance use patterns in various demographics across the nation. This report helps mental health providers understand substance use trends. Although there are many potential substance use disorder diagnoses, some are more common than others. When people seek help at a dual diagnosis treatment center, the most commonly used substances are alcohol, tobacco, opioids, stimulants, marijuana, hallucinogens, and prescription drugs.

Dual Diagnosis Causes and Warning Signs

Like substance use disorders and mental health conditions, there is no recognized singular cause of dual diagnosis conditions. It is believed multiple factors may contribute to someone experiencing dual diagnosis symptoms. The two primary factors are thought to be genetic factors and environmental conditions.

Genetic Conditions

A vast collection of research shows a strong link between genetics and addiction and mental health struggles. When someone has a family history of mental health diagnoses or addiction-related disorders, it increases their risk for developing the same conditions. Additionally, current research suggests specific genes may increase one’s risk for developing addictions.

Environmental Influences

Similarly, environmental influences can lead to struggles with addiction and mental health. Children who grow up in an environment where substance use is common are at an increased risk for developing substance use disorders as they age. In addition, individuals exposed to trauma (such as abuse) or other stressful events in their household are at an increased risk for struggling with mental health conditions.

Signs to Look For

Because someone who struggles with a dual diagnosis experiences symptoms of both a mental health condition and (often) a substance use disorder, the warning signs of the dual diagnosis will often mimic those of drug and alcohol use or various mental health disorders.

Common examples may include:

  • Weight changes
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Behavioral changes
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • New or worsening legal problems
  • Financial struggles
  • Notable changes in a friend or loved one’s mental health

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

When seeking help at a dual diagnosis residential treatment center, the first step for most is often a comprehensive intake assessment. This process helps the treatment team understand your unique treatment needs.

What Is the Process Of Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

The outcomes of your evaluation will help therapy providers determine the most beneficial therapies for you. Often, the first step in the treatment process is detox or detoxification. Detox is necessary to help individuals struggling with a substance use disorder safely and successfully wean off and cleanse their bodies of drugs and alcohol.

Detoxing any safe and supported setting helps reduce the potential risk for medical emergencies that can arise as part of the detox process. Once detox is complete, it is possible to transition to the therapeutic portion of a dual diagnosis treatment program.

The PAC Program Three-Phase Approach for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

We provide a three-phase approach to dual diagnosis treatment at The PAC Program. At our dual diagnosis residential treatment center, we will work with you to develop a comprehensive therapy program based on your unique treatment needs and goals.


The therapy models used include elements necessary to address both addiction and mental health struggles. Participants are offered a range of therapies, including dual diagnosis individual therapies, dual diagnosis group therapies, and family counseling sessions. The most commonly used form of therapy in a dual diagnosis rehab is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT.

CBT strives to help someone recovering from addiction and a substance use disorder understand the root causes behind addiction and how to safely and successfully manage triggers in the future without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Residential Treatment

As the residential portion of therapy comes to an end, we will help you transition into an intensive outpatient program or aftercare program. Participating in these programs beyond your initial treatment can help you continue reinforcing and practicing the relapse prevention skills you learned during therapy in a safe and supported setting.

Seek Help Today

If you struggle with a dual diagnosis, it is essential to seek treatment at a dual diagnosis treatment program like The PAC Program. Unfortunately, not all programs are designed to help you manage the challenge of both a mental health condition and addiction. Seeking help at a program where therapy providers understand the unique treatment needs of dual diagnosis conditions provides the greatest opportunities for improved treatment outcomes. To learn more about our programs, contact our admissions team today.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

Related Content

Learn More

In-Network with Most Major Insurance Providers

Fill out our free and confidential form to see how your insurance could cover the cost of treatment. No commitment required.