What Does Dual Diagnosis Mean When It Comes to Mental Health?

There are many different mental health conditions and the approaches to treating them are as varied as there are people in the world. Addiction recovery is a subset of mental health care that focuses on treating people with drug and alcohol addiction. The complexities of helping people overcome addiction are often exacerbated by other conditions. The clinical nature of this creates more challenges in developing a mental health care plan to treat the individual. Let’s take a quick look at what a dual diagnosis means and how it impacts treatment options.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

When someone comes in for addiction treatment, they get evaluated for mental health needs. This ensures that the treatment plan is sufficient to help them overcome their addiction. In the process, the medical team might discover that there are other underlying mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and more. What is dual diagnosis? It’s when the person with addiction is found to have at least one mental health disorder in addition to the addiction. This diagnosis ensures that the person can now receive adequate treatment for both the underlying mental health condition and the addiction concurrently.

A dual diagnosis can be anything from depression paired with opioid addiction or anxiety paired with marijuana addiction. And in some cases, the drug abuse might have started as a way to self-medicate the mental health condition.

Why is Dual Diagnosis Significant?

When you’re wondering what is a dual diagnosis you might also want to know why it matters. Unfortunately, the challenges that an addict faces are interconnected to their mental health needs. By figuring out that there is a mental health issue connected to the addiction, it can help determine the best course of treatment. Some substances also exacerbate mental health issues, so understanding the connectedness is critical.

It’s also important because if you try to treat the addiction without addressing the mental health needs, you are setting the person up for failure. Outcomes are much better for people who have a dual diagnosis and receive treatment for both issues concurrently.

What are Treatment Options for People With a Dual Diagnosis?

When you have a dual diagnosis you need interconnected care. This may involve therapy sessions with a licensed therapist well-versed in both mental health disorders and substance abuse. They can approach the issue from multiple fronts. It may require a unique approach to detoxing from the substances, such as a medical detox. It also means that continuous monitoring is important. Getting the patient on the right mental health medications is also crucial when there is a dual diagnosis.

Also read: Dual Diagnosis in Older Adults: Are They More Likely to Have It?


What is dual diagnosis in mental health? It’s when someone is being treated for substance abuse and also has a mental health disorder that needs to be addressed in treatment. By treating both the addiction and the mental health disorder, healthcare professionals are better able to meet the needs of the patient and get better outcomes. By looking at all the issues impacting the addiction, therapists and other helpers can create personalized plans to help the person move forward in recovery successfully.