Destination Hope Blog ยป Dual Diagnosis: The Link Between Addiction and Mental Illness

Dual Diagnosis: The Link Between Addiction and Mental Illness

Sad depressed woman sitting outdoorsDrug addiction changes the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. For many, addiction is only half of the problem. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that roughly half of all people diagnosed with a mental illness also struggle with drug or alcohol abuse.

The interaction between the two disorders is complex, and it can be difficult to tell which came first. For example, a person with PTSD may self-medicate by using addictive drugs to ease their symptoms.

Conversely, a person addicted to heroin may develop depression or symptoms resembling schizophrenia. Effective treatment for a dual diagnosis accounts for a variety of individual factors.

The Relationship Between Addiction and Mental Illness

The combination of addiction and mental illness affects different people in different ways. Several patterns of behavior include:

    • Self-medication. People with anxiety, stress, or learning disorders often turn to recreational or OTC drugs to relieve their symptoms. In this case, the mental illness fuels the addiction, and both may worsen as the person develops tolerance to the drug and begins taking more often and in higher dosages.


    • Worsening symptoms of mental illness. The powerful brain-altering properties of substances like heroin and alcohol can worsen already intense symptoms of mental illness. For example, a person with panic disorder who overdoses on cocaine may experience intense pain and suicidal thoughts.


    • The onset of mental illness. A drug-addicted person without a co-occurring mental disorder may be at risk of developing one. Studies show that drug-induced hallucinations may promote early signs of psychosis. Individual factors including genes and family history may increase a person’s risk of developing a drug-induced mental illness.


The Importance of Individualized Treatment

Substance addiction alone is a complex disease that varies from person to person. When a co-occurring disorder enters the equation, finding an effective treatment plan can be difficult. The most successful dual diagnosis treatment plans account for the person’s age, gender, ethnicity, medical history, family history, and other individual factors.

Psychologist talking with her patientMany modern treatment centers have limited experience with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They may provide treatment for the addiction, but refer the patient elsewhere to receive treatment for their mental illness.

Studies show that divided treatments often fail, as a dual diagnosis involves more elements than the sum of the parts. The lack of treatment coordination can also harm a patient’s motivation to recover.

When searching for a treatment center for a loved one with a dual diagnosis, caretakers should seek a clinical program like Destination Hope who specializes in treating addiction and the specific co-occurring illness together. After examining a patient’s biological, environmental, and developmental factors, the clinical team will determine the optimum treatment plan.

Components of a Successful Dual Diagnosis Treatment Plan

Effective treatment for dual diagnosis involves:

    • A detailed, long-term recovery plan


    • Mental health outreach programs to supplement core treatment


    • Individual and family counseling to help all parties understand the root of the disease


    • A network of support that includes family, friends, clinicians, and fellow patients


    • Drug-assisted detoxification to mitigate withdrawal symptoms


    • Classes that teach coping skills


Depressed Young Woman Talking To CounsellorPeople with a dual diagnosis may benefit from time away from friends and family. Inpatient treatment provides a stress-free healing environment.

With clinician-led cognitive behavioral therapy, holistic therapy, counseling, and education, people with dual diagnosis can recover on a physical, mental, social, and spiritual level.

A holistic, evidence-based treatment program that is tailored to your loved one’s needs is going to increase the likelihood of recovery without relapse. Talk to one of the admissions counselors at Destination Hope today to learn more about our women’s program and how we can help your loved one recover from dual diagnosis.


    1. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs: Chapter 12: Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders, NCBI, 2005,


  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dual Diagnosis, NAMI,