Dual Diagnosis: Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Conditions


Common Mental Health Issues And Addiction

Few psychiatric disorders present alongside a drug addiction. Often these psychiatric disorders are the leading cause of addiction. That is why it’s important to recognize mental health symptoms along with signs of co-occurring substance use. 

Common mental health disorders linked to substance use disorders include:

-Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Substance abuse is a way for people who have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to cope with anxiety and other various symptoms. Stimulants are often prescribed to these patients; however, stimulants have addictive potential. Many people who are prescribed stimulants such as Adderall may end up becoming addicted.

-Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder has a toxic relationship with drug dependence and dependence on alcohol. Many of these people have this mental disorder and can often rely on an addictive substance to cope. Drugs and alcohol may relieve the person from some emotional issues however can lead to more powerful depressive symptoms and substance abuse disorder such as alcohol use disorder. 


According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 1 in 10 adults in the United States suffers from depression and depressive symptoms. Depression often leads to self-medication and self-harm. Some patients may be chronic users of alcohol, opiates, or marijuana. The substance of choice will eventually lead to poor physical health and mental health. These A people need to reach out for psychiatric treatment. If your loved one suffers from depression, reach out for substance abuse treatments and a treatment provider.

-Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder affects approximately 18% of the adult population in the United States. It is one of the most common mental health disorders. People with GAD are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol to manage the building symptoms of anxiety. Some commonly used substances include benzodiazepines, alcohol, opiates, and marijuana. Addiction to one of the substances and an anxiety disorder may lead to the co-existence of two disorders that affect the person’s mental and physical health.

-Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes intrusive thoughts in the patient. To relieve anxiety caused by these intrusive thoughts, a person will create compulsions; however, those with OCD may rely on substances to numb these horrific intrusive thoughts. Alcohol use disorder is widespread amongst people with OCD. OCD has many different symptoms, leading to more depression and increased anxiety, leading to substance abuse disorder. 

-Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

A person who has post-traumatic stress disorder is more likely to use drugs or alcohol because of the decreased production of a pain-relief drug in their brain. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, alcohol use disorder is one of the most common problems amongst veterans who have seen combat.

Why Co-Occurring Disorders Are Treated Differently

Almost half of the people United States struggle with co-occurring disorders. The general population is at higher risk of substance use disorders if they have a mental illness. Individuals who continuously abuse substances are at increased risk of developing a mental illness. When a person presents with a dual diagnosis, they must seek a long-term residential treatment center specializing in co-occurring disorder treatment and takes an individualized approach. Dual diagnosis treatment must focus on all aspects of mental health care and take a robust system to treat the mental illness and any other co-occurring disorders.

Several factors can cause mental illness and lead to co-occurring substance use disorder.


Your brain is a mighty organ. If it’s rewarded with feelings of joy, then it will want you to do whatever gave you those feelings in the first place. Abusing drugs such as alcohol marijuana may lead to a temporary happy state; however, they will only worsen your mental health conditions in the long run. Withdrawal symptoms can intensify depression and anxiety, leading to positive feedback, causing you to use the substances continuously. 

Family history

A person’s genetics can affect their ability to develop a mental disorder. It is shown that genes make up between 40% and 60% of people with substance use disorder.

Environmental Triggers

Chronic stress, anxiety, or a traumatic event can kickstart an addiction or mental disorder.

Exposure At An Early Age

Drug use as a child can lead to a substance abuse problem and a mental health disorder later in life. The brain damage from substance use in adolescents and young adults is more severe than in older adults.

Warning Signs Of the co-existence of two disorders

There are different signs of a co-existing disorder. Symptoms can be determined by the type of substance abused and the severity of the co-occurring condition.

Symptoms of a dual diagnosis include:

  • Sudden changes in general behavior

  • Difficulty managing daily tasks and responsibilities

  • Avoiding social responsibilities

  • Ignoring health and hygiene

  • Thoughts of Delusion

  • Denying treatment

  • Suicidal behaviors

  • Toxic Behavior

  • Financial Problems

  • Performance at school or work

The Dangers Of Self-Medication in a person with Dual Diagnosis

  • Self-medication is a common issue surrounding dual diagnosis. Drugs or alcohol can be used to mask a mental illness. Substance use can cause addiction and worsen the underlying condition, even though they are meant to deal with mental or behavioral illness.

  • The scenarios show how some people attempt to self-medicate a mental illness.

    • Drinking alcohol to feel less anxious in social situations

    • Taking excessive amounts of Benzodiazepines (like Xanax or Valium) to ebb an oncoming panic attack

    • Using marijuana to numb the emotional pain from trauma or grief

    • Smoking or injecting Cocaine to increase energy and motivation to complete daily tasks

  • It can be a wrong decision to use substances as a way to escape a mental health condition. People with a mental or behavioral illness who begin abusing drugs or alcohol will consume more than necessary to achieve their goals. A person will build a tolerance to medication over time and finish more of the drug to get the same high. This is one of the hallmarks of dependency and addiction.

Please call 911 if you are experiencing a medical emergency or to call our admissions department for support (801) 499-9316

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