Addressing Dual Diagnosis in the Addiction Field

What is dual diagnosis? Dual diagnosis is the term used to describe instances in which individuals have multiple co-existing issues. In the addiction treatment field, this often refers to a person meeting the diagnosis for both a substance use disorder as well as a mental health diagnosis. A person entering treatment with an opioid use disorder and major depression would be an example of someone experiencing dual diagnosis. So how common is it? Dual diagnosis is everything but uncommon.

Results from a recent national survey (NSDUH, 2020) showed that close to 10 million U.S. adults experienced dual diagnosis in 2019. The same survey revealed that about half of all adults dealing with addiction in the U.S. also experienced mental illness. To put this in perspective, out of every ten individuals presenting to addiction treatment, five might also experience mental health symptoms. So how should dual diagnosis be addressed? Historically, substance use problems and mental health symptoms have been treated separately. However, this view is outdated.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (2020) explains that “the best treatment for dual diagnosis is integrated intervention, when a person receives care for both their diagnosed mental illness and substance use disorder.” NAMI further states that “the idea that someone cannot treat your depression because you are also drinking is outdated — current thinking requires both issues be addressed.” If you or a loved one experiences dual diagnosis, treatment will be most effective if both the addiction and the mental health component are understood and addressed.