Addiction And Mental Health: How To Support A Loved One With Dual Diagnosis


Dealing with either substance abuse or mental illness is difficult. However, when one is dealing with both, the condition gets even worse.

Fortunately, one can pull through the condition and get better with proper treatment. However, the treatment is a long and challenging journey requiring perseverance. Therefore, proper support is vital for patients to get through the treatment.

If you have a loved one with a dual diagnosis, knowing what steps to take is crucial to ensure you’re giving proper care and support. To guide you, this article outlines everything you need to know about dual diagnosis and how to offer support. Read on.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when an individual has a mental illness and substance abuse disorder. Such individuals may develop mental challenges first and then turn to drug use as a coping mechanism. On the other hand, others may begin misusing drugs and later develop mental illnesses.

It’s vital to mention that people experimenting with drugs are likelier to develop mental issues later. Substances affect the brain’s function, heightening the risks of developing anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Suppose your loved one has a dual diagnosis. Both conditions must be treated. Failure to which the untreated condition is likely to worsen. For instance, if you treat substance abuse and neglect mental health, the individual will experience relapse, as some people with mental challenges may turn to drugs to suppress their feelings.

What Are The Signs Of Dual Diagnosis?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all regarding the signs of dual diagnosis. Different people present different signs and symptoms depending on the drug they’re using and the mental illness they experience. In most cases, drug abuse can overshadow the signs of mental health issues. On the other hand, people struggling with substance abuse can appear to be mentally unstable.

While symptoms indicating a person might have a dual diagnosis vary from one individual to another, here are some common signs:

  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Sudden change in behavior and personality

Unless an individual with substance abuse disorder is professionally screened, it might be challenging for their loved one to know they’re suffering from two conditions. Therefore, it’s vital for a patient seeking help for addiction to be screened for co-occurring symptoms of mental health issues.

If you’re wondering how to help your loved one who seems to have a dual diagnosis, visit to connect with professionals who can guide you on the way forward.

What Are The Risks Of Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a complicated health issue. Its complexity is more prevalent when it comes to diagnosing disorders. As earlier stated, addiction can mask mental health issues, leading to one disorder being left untreated. Unfortunately, when only one condition is attended to, the other will recur with time.

People with mental issues are unlikely to understand the severity of their condition and how substance abuse can affect their life quality. As a result, they fail to get the much-needed help, making the disorders even more complicated. If family members and friends fail to understand what their loved one is ailing from, the victim will likely be consumed by the disorder and might lose their life.

How Is Mental Health And Substance Abuse Linked?

When someone has mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, they likely take alcohol or other drugs to suppress what they’re going through. With time, they end up depending on substances without even noticing. Unfortunately, when you become drug dependent, your body craves more, and you might not be able to function before taking drugs. As time passes, your mental issue increases, especially after noticing you can’t go for a day without taking drugs. On the other hand, suppose you’re dealing with an untreated mental issue. You’ll likely find refuge in substances, leading to addiction.

Mental health and substance abuse are more closely linked than many people think. The statistics published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, around 50% of persons with severe mental issues suffer from substance abuse disorders. Also, among 50 people diagnosed with mental illnesses, 29% suffer from alcohol and drug abuse. Additionally, 37% of people suffering from alcohol abuse and 53% who use drugs are also ailing from at least one severe mental health issue.

Which Comes First Between Mental Illness And Substance Abuse?

While mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, stress, and anxiety are closely linked to substance abuse, it doesn’t necessarily mean one can directly cause the other. However, mental health issues can lead to more substance use, and drug abuse can aggravate mental illness symptoms. For example, abusing marijuana can cause prolonged psychotic reactions, while too much alcohol can worsen depression and anxiety.

In many cases, substances, including alcohol and drugs, are used to improve mental health issues. Many assume alcohol and drugs can ease diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness symptoms. Unfortunately, this only worsens the matter. Once you become substance dependent, your mental health issues will likely increase.

Substance plays a significant role in increasing the risks of underlying mental illnesses. However, since mental issues are caused by genetics, environment, and other factors, it might be challenging to prove if substances directly cause mental illnesses. Nevertheless, suppose you’re at risk of developing mental health issues. Abusing substances can speed up the process. This means substance abuse can aggravate symptoms of mental health issues or make them manifest. Substance abuse can also trigger new mental illness symptoms.

It’s also important to mention that substance abuse can interact with mental health medication, making it ineffective. As a result, the condition being treated might get worse instead of improving.

How Is Dual Diagnosis Treated?

Before, the dual diagnosis was treated using a method referred to as a parallel treatment. This treatment involved a set of doctors treating mental health illnesses and another treating the substance abuse condition. Unfortunately, this treatment mode was ineffective, and the conditions didn’t improve. In the 1980s, dual diagnosis treatment took a turn, and a more integrated approach was established.

Since dual diagnosis combines mental health illnesses and substance abuse, mental health doctors use a treatment method that touches both conditions. This means that the same specialists in a similar facility care for a patient with a dual diagnosis. This treatment aims to prevent the patient from being attended to by various caregivers in various facilities.

Nevertheless, some facilities treating dual diagnosis still practice sequential treatment approaches. This means they first tackle the substance abuse issue and later treat mental illness. This might also mean the patient is cared for by two medical teams. Both teams must work closely and communicate well for such treatment to work. Failure to which the treatment approach might fail to bear fruits.

Regarding this treatment, the doctors begin by treating addiction through detoxification and rehabilitation. At this point, the patient is monitored by professionals in a supportive facility. The patient is also coached on abstaining from substance abuse and controlling their urge. Medication is also administered in severe cases since withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

Once the patient has recovered from substance abuse, the doctor treats mental health illness. This is important since failing to treat mental issues will likely lead to substance abuse relapse. At this point, psychotherapy is a major treatment part of the success of dual diagnosis treatment. These specialists help their patients to identify triggers and how to avoid them. Medication like mood stabilizers and antidepressants are also used alongside counseling for the effectiveness of the treatment.

Alongside medication and counseling, support groups are also used to improve dual diagnosis. Such groups are comprised of people who have gone through the same. These individuals offer advice on how to stay sober. For example, they emphasize avoiding social gatherings with people misusing drugs since they can lure you into using them, causing relapse. They also provide practical and effective ways to handle daily challenges that trigger stress, depression, or substance use.

How Can You Support A Loved One With a Dual Diagnosis?

Dealing with dual diagnosis is challenging. An individual suffering from the same requires all the support they can get. Solid support will go a long way in helping your loved one understand their worth and accept their situation and help.

According to mental health practitioners, the following are practical and effective ways you can help your loved one struggling with dual diagnosis:

Be Informed

The first step to supporting your loved one with a dual diagnosis is understanding the condition and what they’re going through. It might be challenging to offer support if you don’t know what the other person is experiencing. For this reason, try to put yourself in their shoes, understand their challenges, and determine what you’d want people to do for you in such a case.

It’s vital to note that dual diagnosis is more complex than addiction or mental health issues. That said, the support required by a person with a dual diagnosis might differ from someone suffering from alcohol and substance abuse or mental health issues. Fortunately, this article discussed the primary information on what dual diagnosis entails. The information will help you understand the condition and determine what your loved one needs.

Always Be Available

Of course, you’re busy with other things. However, you probably can find some time to be with your loved one struggling with a dual diagnosis. They’re going through a lot, and your presence means much. Offer them a shoulder to lean on. Accompany them to see the doctor if necessary and remind them about their appointments and when to take medication. Let them know you’re there and willing to walk with them until they recover.

Encourage Them To Seek Help

Unlike when ailing from a physical illness, many people with mental health issues or addiction don’t seek treatment. This is even the case when it comes to dual diagnosis. This condition prevents the victim from determining how severe the matter is, especially since they run to substances to suppress their feelings.

It’s, therefore, crucial for family members, especially those who know their loved one is suffering from dual diagnosis, to encourage them to seek help. Inform them that there are support groups and organizations ready to walk with them toward their recovery.

Be Patient

The road to recovery from a dual diagnosis isn’t easy. It’s full of challenges, and sometimes patients get tired along the way. When this happens, these individuals continue using substances, worsening the condition. At this point, you might tend to be discouraged and lose hope. However, this shouldn’t be the case. If you do, the victim will likely be discouraged and lack a support system. It’s, therefore, vital to be patient. Give your loved one some time, and they’ll get better eventually.

Look After Yourself

How can you support anyone if you aren’t okay? You must be emotionally stable to provide emotional support. Therefore, seek support from family and friends to avoid burnout. Occasionally taking a break is advisable to avoid stressing yourself too much.


Dual diagnosis is a combination of substance abuse and mental health illnesses. A person with this condition experiences severe symptoms from both problems. Unfortunately, it might be challenging to determine if your loved one has a dual diagnosis. This is because addiction overshadows the mental issues symptoms; hence the victim is assumed to be suffering from addiction alone.

Fortunately, though challenging, dual diagnosis is diagnosable and can be treated. It’s, therefore, vital to seek treatment for your loved one with substance abuse issues since it might be accompanied by mental health illness.

If your loved one has been diagnosed with a dual diagnosis, mental health specialists will administer treatment to improve the condition. However, treating dual diagnosis isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a time-consuming process that requires patience. Family and close friends of someone diagnosed with dual diagnosis should offer as much support as possible since the patient might lose hope. If this happens, the victim’s well-being might be in grave danger.