Dual Diagnosis

Addiction and mental health disorders are closely linked. Often, a mental health disorder was present before the person developed an addiction. In some cases, heavy use of alcohol or other drugs brings an underlying mental illness to the surface.

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

A Dual diagnosis is made when a person struggling with addiction also suffers from another mental or behavioral health disorder. Other names for dual diagnoses are co-occurring disorders and co-morbid disorders.

Dual diagnoses are common among those struggling with addiction. If you are already addicted to a substance like alcohol or cocaine, then it is likely that another mental health condition is at play. This could be anything from generalized anxiety disorder to depression.

Research reports that those struggling with substance addiction have higher rates of mental illness than the rest of the population. According to SAMHSA, 45% of people struggling with addiction also struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Addiction and mental health disorders are closely linked. Often, a mental health disorder was present before the person developed an addiction. In some cases, heavy use of alcohol or other drugs brings an underlying mental illness to the surface.

Substance use affects our brain chemistry and can set the stage for a range of mental disorders to develop.

Mental Health Disorders and Substance Abuse

Sometimes, an addiction develops following attempts to ease the symptoms of a mental health disorder. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many people who struggle with anxiety or depression habitually use alcohol or cannabis to alleviate their symptoms.

Research tells us that alcohol slows down activity in the central nervous system. It acts as a social lubricant, making it a go-to drug of choice for those who struggle with social anxiety. Similarly, cannabis can offer short-term relief from symptoms of depression.

We can develop a dependence if we rely on alcohol and cannabis to relieve our anxiety and depression. When this happens, the person must then deal with having a drug dependence on top of their pre-existing mental health disorder.

The journal Psychiatric Services explains that benzodiazepines (benzos) are another commonly misused drug among those with mental health conditions. They are usually prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders.

These medications slow the body and mind and can provide relief from anxiety. They also may result in mild euphoria. As such, benzos are highly addictive. Often a dependence develops before a person is even aware that there is a problem.

Stimulants, such as cocaine, are often abused alongside conditions like eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Cocaine reduces our appetite. This means that regular use leads to weight loss.

Those suffering from BDD may use cocaine to change how their body looks. Similarly, people suffering from muscle dysmorphia (M.D.) use steroids for the same purpose.

The Importance of Accurate Dual Diagnosis

At Excel Treatment Center, we understand that it is important for clients with substance use disorders (SUDs) to receive an accurate diagnosis of another mental health condition when they come to us for treatment.

In the past, it was believed that addiction and mental health disorders should be treated as separate conditions.

Now, it is understood that addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders are closely linked. This means they should be treated together. If not, the symptoms of one make the other’s symptoms worse, and this can increase the risk of relapse.

The best approach to treating co-occurring SUD and mental health disorders is comprehensive, integrated treatment. With integrated treatment, both conditions are considered when creating a treatment program.

This considers the relationship between the client’s substance abuse and their mental health condition.

Integrated Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders at Excel Treatment Center

Excel offers a range of integrated treatment services. These are specially designed to help those suffering from co-occurring disorders.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Finding the cause of your addiction
  • Finding the cause of your mental health disorder
  • Helping clients understand the relationship between both disorders
  • Learning valuable coping skills to reduce the risk of relapse
  • Engaging in treatments and healing approaches that are tailored to your recovery needs

Experts must treat co-occurring disorders. This gives the best chance at a successful recovery. At Excel, our recovery specialists have extensive combined experience in treating co-occurring disorders.

We have a team of professionally trained therapists, psychiatrists, counselors, and medical staff. They will determine the safest, most appropriate course of treatment for your co-occurring disorders.

By collaborating in treatment with our recovery specialists, you can work towards a successful recovery with understanding support the whole way through.

Most Common Dual Diagnosis Disorders


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S. There are several types of anxiety disorder. All are characterized by excessive worry and fearful thinking.

Anxiety is a powerful condition that can drive those suffering to engage in avoidant behaviors. Avoidant behaviors are things we do to cope with our overwhelming feelings of anxiety. An example of this is the use of substances to self-medicate.

Alcohol, cannabis, and prescription drugs are all used to reduce anxiety symptoms. However, this only works for a short time. Unless anxiety is treated at its root cause, it will continue to affect the person. Any relief found from substances is short-lived, and the anxiety symptoms soon return.

Through repeated substance use, those suffering from anxiety disorders may become addicted to their drug of choice. The combination of anxiety and substance addiction makes treatment for both more complicated. Still, it is possible, as long as it is led by experts in co-occurring disorder treatment.


Depression is also one of the most common mental health disorders worldwide. WHO reports that around 264 million people globally suffer from depression.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • An inability to feel joy
  • A bleak global outlook
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities

The symptoms of depression can be difficult to live with. As a means of escape, many sufferers turn to substances to cope. However, the use of substances only worsens depression in the long-term.

The symptoms return when the substance wears off. If a person continues to use substances to self-medicate their symptoms, they are likely to develop a dependence and eventually an addiction.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stress-related condition that develops after exposure to a traumatic event or a series of events.

Events which can cause PTSD include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse
  • Combat
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorism
  • Exposure to crime
  • Exposure to motor accidents
  • Receiving a terminal illness diagnosis
  • Sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse
  • Combat
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorism
  • Exposure to crime
  • Exposure to motor accidents
  • Receiving a terminal illness diagnosis

PTSD has very powerful and long-lasting symptoms. These include:

  • Sudden flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Being on constant alert
  • Intrusive thoughts and memories

The symptoms can be so upsetting that using substances to self-medicate can seem like the only option. However, drug and alcohol abuse can extend the length of time that you have PTSD.

Many people suffering choose to use drugs and alcohol and continue to do so despite the negative consequences. This leads to dependence and addiction and complicates treatment for both PTSD and the newly developed addiction.

Bipolar Disorder

According to the U.K.’s NHS, bipolar disorder occurs due to imbalances in our brain chemistry. These imbalances lead to sudden, uncontrollable episodes of mania and depression. People with bipolar disorder often use substances to regain some sense of control over their brain chemistry.

Common drugs of abuse, such as alcohol or MDMA/Ecstasy, have a strong effect on our brains chemistry. When a person with bipolar disorder repeatedly uses drugs and alcohol to regulate their mood, they are at a high risk of developing a substance use disorder.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and substance addiction share many similarities. Eating disorders are related to the brain’s reward system. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (B.N.), and binge eating disorder (BED).

Eating disorders and SUDs involve a compulsion to engage in unhealthy behavior and feelings of guilt, shame, or emptiness once the compulsion has been satisfied.

According to the International Journal of Eating Disorders, substance abuse is common among those suffering from eating disorders. For example, many people with AN engage in nicotine, alcohol, and cocaine use for their ability to suppress appetite.

Anorexia puts sufferers at risk of dangerously low body weight. The risk is heightened when the person also abuses substances.

Once a substance addiction develops, those suffering from eating disorders face a serious health risk that must be addressed as soon as possible.

What We Offer

At Excel Treatment Center, we can provide a fully customized treatment and recovery program for you or your loved one. Clients struggling with co-occurring disorders are offered the latest evidence-based treatments for addiction and mental health conditions.

Treatment is led by our team of addiction and mental health specialists. These clinicians are skilled in determining which types of treatment is most appropriate for your specific recovery needs.

Treatment approaches delivered at Excel include:

  • Comprehensive mental health assessment and evaluation
  • Assistance with detox and withdrawal management  for addiction recovery
  • Various therapies for healing and resilience building, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness
  • Holistic therapies to restore the mind-body connection
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy and support
  • Comprehensive aftercare for extended recovery support

Excel Treatment Center can help if you or a loved one are struggling with co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness. We understand the complexities of treatment for co-occurring disorders, so please contact us today. We’re here to help you every step of the way.

We offer each treatment program with compassionate care and support to ensure that each client receives the help they need. Please reach out to Excel today to discover more about how we can help.