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Understanding Dual Diagnosis

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Tackling substance use disorders is a trying task, and there is no easy way to confront one’s relationship with drugs, alcohol, or any other addictive substance or behavior. The complex journey to a sober lifestyle is filled with personal struggles. 

An individual’s journey may be made even more complex by the presence of underlying mental health disorders. Addressing both substance use and mental health disorders in tandem is necessary for a truly transformative recovery. Identifying these mental health conditions and understanding how they impact a person’s sobriety is essential to making the most effective use of their time in a treatment program.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?


Dual diagnosis is an overarching term that encompasses a number of different unique situations. The term is used when an individual is suffering from an addiction and a mental health disorder simultaneously. However, there is no one, single way in which this can manifest. An individual may be suffering from an addiction to alcohol, opioids, marijuana, benzodiazepines, or any other substance, and even behaviors such as gambling. One’s addiction is further complicated by the presence of a diagnosed mental health disorder. Some of these disorders can include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic


This is not an exhaustive list of the potential mental health disorders that one may suffer from, and the way in which one’s mental health and addiction impact each other is entirely unique and personal. A discussion with a dedicated treatment professional can help each individual better understand their unique circumstances. It can also allow them to understand how their use of addictive substances is influenced or exacerbated by their mental health.

The Overlap of Addiction and Mental Health 


Addiction and mental health disorders inform each other in a number of ways. They can also be birthed from similar circumstances. Environmental influences impact both mental health and one’s attitudes toward the use of addictive substances. As stressful environments may include access to and positive attitudes towards dangerous substances, a person can develop extreme levels of anxiety alongside an environment that facilitates the use of alcohol or drugs.

Both mental health disorders and addiction can also be influenced by genetics, and the presence of major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or addiction in a family member may inform one’s own mental health condition and use of addictive substances.

Creating a Cycle of Challenges


Dual diagnosis is incredibly complex. As feelings of anxiety arise, one may turn to the use of drugs in order to self-medicate. The use of these substances can often cause an individual to begin experiencing increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and more, creating a dangerous cycle of use. For some, the use of addictive substances can even bring about mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and panic disorders, among other complications.

Regardless, if one’s addiction or mental health disorder manifested first, it is still important to address these needs simultaneously to make the most informed, healthy changes. Overcoming addiction and mental health disorders require addressing one’s daily routine and emotional needs, as well as creating a personalized plan with professional care for effective treatment.

The Need to Address Dual Diagnosis in Tandem


There are many avenues to a healthy future, and those suffering from a dual diagnosis of any kind will need to embrace a personalized treatment plan. Addressing both one’s use of addictive substances as well as one’s mental health simultaneously is crucial for a truly transformative recovery. Without addressing any underlying mental health disorders, trauma, or abuse, it can be very difficult to understand one’s relationship with addictive substances in the first place. 

While an individual may develop coping strategies for urges or cravings, they may still be left ill-prepared to cope with the ongoing impact of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Without strategies in place to cope with these intense feelings, it is very easy to slip back into destructive habits and relapse.

Likewise, trying to overcome feelings of panic or bipolar disorder can be extraordinarily difficult if an individual is still using drugs or alcohol. The additional anxiety, depression, and other detrimental effects of these substances make it incredibly difficult to truly address such vulnerable topics. One’s coping strategies can be easily compromised by the use of drugs or alcohol. Trained professionals are necessary in order to create a recovery plan while coping with the effects of both addiction and one’s mental health needs.

Creating a Personalized Plan


There is nothing easy about overcoming addiction and mental health disorders at the same time. This process begins with ceasing one’s use of addictive substances. Creating a safe space to distance oneself from drugs and alcohol is crucial. This allows an individual to be able to honestly address how these substances impact their daily life and why they turned to them as a coping strategy in the first place. 

One’s life experiences, attitudes, and perspectives are all personal, and addressing the use of addictive substances is equally as personal. Finding a dedicated detox, residential, or outpatient treatment program is necessary to begin to make sense of the complex influences presented with dual diagnosis.

Dual diagnosis is a delicate, complex situation, and if you or a loved one are struggling with the combined trials of addiction and mental health disorders, we at Pacific Sands Recovery Center can help you today. Located in beautiful Santa Ana, California, we are prepared to create a personalized recovery plan curated to your unique addiction and mental health needs. Our caring professionals are trained to help you overcome the unique combination of symptoms and personal needs to develop a healthier, sober life. With programs from detox and residential care to ongoing outpatient treatment, we can help you understand and overcome the battles in your life each step of the way. For more information on how we can create a program to address your unique needs, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your situation, call us today at (714) 492-1119.

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