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Important Things to Know About Dual Diagnosis Alcoholism

treatmentDual diagnosis alcoholism occurs when a person has both problematic alcohol abuse and a co-morbid mental health disorder. It is very common for a mental disorder and alcohol abuse to occur simultaneously since one problem can tend to feed the other in a cyclical manner. In fact, people struggling with a substance use disorder are about twice as likely to have an anxiety or mood disorder.1

There are a number of mental disorders that can co-occur with alcohol addiction, including:

  • Depression.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Personality disorders.

If you or a loved one would like more information about dual diagnoses and how to treat them, speak to your doctor and seek out a comprehensive evaluation.

It is important to know that either the problem with alcoholism or the mental disorder can occur first. One often spurs the onset of the other or exacerbates a previously existing one. If the mental disorder occurs first, drinking alcohol to self-medicate can often solve the problem temporarily but will eventually lead to problematic use and subsequent addiction.

If alcoholism occurs first, physiological and neurological adaptations resulting from alcohol consumption can exacerbate or cause a mental health problem. Sometimes, in cases of patients with a co-occurring diagnosis such as depression, drinking can make the underlying mental disorder temporarily worse instead of better. This can lead to patients exhibiting more severe mental behaviors than without the alcohol in their systems.

Treatment Options

A dual diagnosis can be treated, but it is very important to make sure that both conditions are being observed and treated. If one is treated without the other, the problems associated with alcoholism or the mental disorder may return. This is why integrated care that involves many different therapeutic modalities and interventions is so important.

In normal circumstances, the substance abuse is stopped first during a period of detoxification. Detoxification treatment may occur in a number of settings, including a short-term detox program, as an outpatient service, or as part of an inpatient program. The setting in which a person detoxes depends on the severity of a person’s addiction and whether they are at risk of experiencing a complicated withdrawal. It may be seen as an extreme health risk if a person is suffering from both alcoholism and a mental disorder, so the patient may be taken to an acute care facility, such as a local hospital.

treatmentAfter detoxification, the patient is rehabilitated for the substance abuse disorder and psychiatric condition concurrently. This will likely take place in an inpatient program where you can receive 24-hour monitoring and supervision, medical care, psychiatric counseling, peer support, and any alternative therapies that may be offered.

Each program has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you will want to consider location, amenities, type of treatment, cost of treatment, and your insurance coverage, when choosing a treatment program that is appropriate for you. At the same time, doctors will begin treating the mental disorder in order to help the patient begin to cope with everyday life. Depending on the disorders present, medical providers may suggest support group meetings, talk therapy, medications, or other methods of treatment. There are also groups for family members and friends who would like support during the patient’s treatment.

Once you complete a recovery program, it’s imperative that you receive ongoing support in the form of aftercare. Your treatment team at your rehab will create an individualized aftercare plan for you to follow after discharge. Aftercare treatment typically involves a combination of interventions to help prevent relapse. These may include:

  • Individual therapy.
  • Group counseling.
  • Support groups.
  • Sober living homes.
  • Drug education classes.

To learn more about the therapy providers in your area, 12-step programs, or other treatment options, fill out a short contact form for more information. Or, consider calling 800-660-0986 for information about how to get patients and their friends and family members the help they need to recover after dual diagnosis alcoholism affects their lives.


1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011). Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders.
2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2002). Comorbidity of Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.
3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.