Dual Diagnosis

teenage boy talking to therapist

Dual Diagnosis

Co-occurring conditions feed on each other, making both worse

The Basics of Dual Diagnosis

Mental and behavioral health issues rarely happen alone. A dual diagnosis is the combination of one or more mental health issues that co-occur with conditions like drug or alcohol misuse. It may start with someone turning to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of a mental health disorder or the pain from emotional trauma. Or the negative impact of a disorder like ADHD may cause depression or anxiety rates to rise in that same young person. A high percentage of people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction also have at least one co-occurring mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or bipolar. These issues can feed off each other, making both conditions worse. The best chance at long-term recovery? Integrated treatment that addresses both conditions in the same setting, at the same time.

It is not at all uncommon for people to struggle with both an addiction and a mental health disorder at the same time. In fact, 9.2 million people in the US meet the criteria for a dual diagnosis (also referred to as co-occurring disorders or comorbidities). Substance use disorders and mental health conditions often perpetuate each other with unresolved emotional trauma adding fuel to the fire.

Dual Diagnosis by the Numbers

There isn’t a lot of research available on dual diagnosis specifically as it relates to children and adolescents. But one study of 13-17 year-olds receiving mental health services found a 40.8% prevalence of substance use disorder among participants, with boys were more likely to experience dual diagnoses. In this study, the prevalence of dual diagnoses among children and adolescents treated primarily for mental health conditions was 32.7%.

Other noteworthy stats, courtesy of the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health:

  • Nearly 360,000 US adolescents suffer from both addiction and at least one mental health condition.
  • Over 47 million US adults have at least one mental health condition, and over 20 million have at least one substance use disorder. Approximately 9.2 million have both (a dual diagnosis).
  • 1.3% of all US adults are dealing with a severe mental illness as well as a substance use disorder.

Those who suffer from a mental health disorder or unresolved emotional trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms, which can lead to addiction. For example, a person who has a social anxiety disorder may use alcohol as a way to help ease the symptoms of that condition. Self-medicating in this way only makes the social anxiety worse. The underlying issues of social anxiety disorder are left unaddressed, and the alcohol abuse gets worse as the person becomes more reliant on drinking to cope.

Alternatively, drug or alcohol misuse can spur the development of conditions like anxiety, depression, and even psychosis, creating mental health issues that may require treatment. Both conditions — the substance use and the mental health issue — need to be addressed so that the individual can recover and lead a healthy life again.

Those who suffer from a mental health disorder or unresolved emotional trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms.”

Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis

A person may be suffering from a dual diagnosis if he or she:

  • Has frequent feelings of anxiety and depression and engages in excessive drug or alcohol use
  • Behaves erratically and self-isolates
  • Engages in risk-taking behaviors and frequent substance use
  • Has mental health symptoms that seem to increase with substance use
  • Has a high tolerance for drug or alcohol use
  • Engages in compulsory use of drugs or alcohol to sleep or feel relaxed
  • Does not seem interested in life activities, is increasingly fearful and closed off
  • Continually seeks out unhealthy behaviors to relieve pain or alter mood
teenage boys spending time together

Treating Dual Diagnosis

Drugs and alcohol use can go from casual to critical before you know it. Many teens use them to self-medicate, trying to deal with pain from trauma or to manage the symptoms of undiagnosed mental health conditions. Research has shown that integrated treatment that addresses both conditions — the substance use and the mental health issue —  in the same setting at the same time offers the best chance of long-term recovery.

At The Meadows Adolescent Center, we excel at treating teens who struggle with dual diagnosis. Our expert clinical team thoroughly assesses each person to uncover any secondary or co-occurring conditions that often accompany a primary diagnosis, in addition to teaching the skills needed to navigate these disorders.

Our Treatment

We offer a wide array of therapeutic approaches to help adolescents work through dual-diagnosis, including:

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which helps adolescents identify and modify negative thought and behavior patterns
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which helps stop destructive behavior, then teaches coping skills
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI), a counseling approach that helps teens address and resolve insecurities and ambivalence

Our trauma-focused and brain-based approach helps us find and treat the root cause of a teen’s addiction and mental health conditions. This is how lasting change begins, and we can help you and your teen find it.

Nature in Morristown, AZ

Finding the Right Fit

Need more information to determine if what we offer fits your needs? Our skilled admissions specialists can help. They will walk you through the process, answering any questions you have along the way.