While the term “dual diagnosis” is a broad category of disorders, it can be narrowed down to someone who experiences a mental illness and substance abuse problem at the same time. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) refers it as a “co-occurring disorder.” NIH estimates as many as 7.9 million Americans are struggling with addiction and mental illness simultaneously.
The two co-occurring disorders may each exacerbate the other, or they may be the cause, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). For instance, someone who binge drinks may develop mild depression as a result. Someone with bipolar disorder may see those symptoms increase due to heroin abuse in periods of mania.
It is far from a rare occurrence. NAMI estimates that about one third of people with mental illness—and about half of those with a severe mental illness—also struggle with substance abuse. And the same numbers are prevalent in substance abuse, where about one-third of all alcohol abusers and more than half of drug users reporting a mental illness. Men are more likely to develop a co-occurring disorder than women. Also at high risk: individuals of a lower socioeconomic status, military veterans and people with a medical illness. The potential dangers are immense. Abusing drugs or alcohol while on medication can have serious and dangerous side effects.
Left untreated, one illness can worsen the other. And if the two illnesses are not treated concurrently, the treatment is less likely to be effective. The person with the dual diagnosis may approach treatment on multiple fronts simultaneously. Detoxification, which may require inpatient treatment, will help the person achieve sobriety. Medication may be used to treat the mental health condition. Psychotherapy has proven particularly effective as a form of treatment. Self-help and support groups can help the person manage both conditions for the long haul.
National Alliance on Mental Illness http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_brochures_dual_diagnosis
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring