Dual diagnosis is the term used to define the existence of a substance use disorder co-occurring with a mental health disorder. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 8 million Americans struggle with a dual diagnosis. In diagnosing and treating individuals with a dual diagnosis, it is often difficult to discern which came first, the mental health disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, or the substance use disorder.
In either case, one disorder can be a contributing factor for the other disorder developing. For example, a depressed individual may begin self-medicating the depression by abusing drugs or alcohol, eventually leading to a substance dependency. On the other hand, a person who is abusing alcohol may develop depression as a consequence of the alcohol abuse negatively impacting their life.
Regardless of the order of the onset of each disorder, treatment for both disorders should be part of a comprehensive treatment program for the best chance of success in recovery. An effective dual diagnosis treatment program will simultaneously treat both the addiction and the mental health condition.