What Does It Mean to Have a Dual Diagnosis?

Picture of Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV.

What Does It Mean to Have a Dual Diagnosis

Have you received a dual diagnosis in addiction recovery? Here’s what you need to know.

The term dual diagnosis is used to describe a variety of medical issues. Primarily, it was created to deal with describing a co-existing mental health problem and alcohol or drug addiction. It might be called a dual disorder. It might also be called a co-occurring condition. Whatever you want to call it, it makes addiction recovery 10 times more difficult than it would be on its own.

Consider your dual diagnosis like this. Imagine you have a horrible head cold. You're already feeling pretty rubbish. That same day you trip, fall, and break your ankle. Now you're feeling doubly miserable. You're in pain. You have a sore foot. You can't walk and on top of everything else - you still have a cold. This is what it's like to have a drug addiction or alcohol addiction and depression.

Let's talk about what it means to have a dual diagnosis.


Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Go Hand in Hand

There are no limits on the number of illnesses that you can have at one time. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, it is so rare to find someone for whom that is their only issue. In fact, studies show that if you have a mental health condition, you are more likely to develop a drug or alcohol addiction. This is because people who are managing mental illness turn to outside coping factors to help them manage. One of those coping factors, however unhealthy, is substance abuse.

Mental illness and substance abuse go hand in hand, and we should not try to deny that. If we keep denying this, we are not going to be able to treat your conditions effectively. People with co-occurring disorders need greater attention during the recovery from the addiction process. Treatment must be tailored to adapt to the challenges that mental illness throws out.

In studies undertaken in the UK, the portion of addiction recoverees who have a co-occurring mental illness stands between 20-37%. The problem has been so severe that UK Gov has issued guidelines for those operating rehab clinics in England and Wales, which oversee the treatment of those who have a dual diagnosis. The guidelines aim to prevent exclusion, enable effective services, and enhance recovery.


Untreated Mental Illness and Drug/Alcohol Addiction Can Kill You

Let's not beat around the bush here. Removing yourself from addiction while you have a mental illness could kill you. If you are depressed and you quit smoking, drinking, taking drugs, eating -whatever it is that keeps you going - your mental health is going to crash. When your mental health crashes, you're at greater risk of suicide. 

This is why most rehab clinics will treat your depression, anxiety, or PTSD at the same time as they treat your recovery. Both need to be tackled simultaneously if you're to have a chance of recovery.


If you have been given a dual diagnosis and you wish to seek treatment for it, your first stop is usually your GP. They will be able to advise you on how they might help you with a co-occurring addiction issue on the NHS. 

You could receive outpatient treatment for your dual diagnosis through the NHS in England and Wales. Unfortunately, seeking treatment through the NHS can take a long time. The NHS is the free Public Health Service in England and Wales, but it does have lengthy waiting lists. When you're dealing with a co-occurring condition, you really need both conditions to be treated simultaneously. If you must wait on waiting lists for NHS services, that becomes almost impossible to do.

For this reason, we would always recommend that you seek inpatient treatment for your dual diagnosis of alcohol or drug addiction and mental illness. Rehab clinics are perfectly tailored to meet every mental health crisis need that you could possibly have while you recover from addiction. You have the option of programmes and workshops that you can choose from. Plus, a rehab clinic involves steps to get you into a healthy eating and healthy exercise regime, too.

Free Consultations For Dual Diagnosis Patients

If you have been diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, then help for addiction is here to help you. Call us today on 0203 955 7700 to get your own free consultation and decide what to do next. Help is only a phone call away. We are ready and waiting to hear from you.

FREE Call Back Service

Request a FREE call back and speak to our support team – we’re ready to help you get on the road to recovery.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

The Cost Of Rehab

Are you unsure if you can afford addiction rehabilitation? Learn how to get support from private and funded rehab options.