Two forest paths mergeDual diagnosis describes a situation where a person who has a mental health concern also abuses substances. It’s often the case that someone begins using drugs, alcohol, or both to cope with emotional distress resulting from mental health issues, but this isn’t always the case. Some people may experience substance use issues first. 

Dual diagnosis is common. According to statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 40% of the 21 million Americans diagnosed with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition. It’s not always possible to tell which issue came first, or if one led to the other. But often the two concerns are related. 

Mental health issues and substance abuse are serious on their own. Combined, they can make treatment more challenging, worsen physical and mental health, and increase suicide risk.

What Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Research shows people with a dual diagnosis often struggle to succeed in treatment when treatment only addresses either substance abuse issues or mental health concerns. 

Dual diagnosis treatment is specially designed to combine mental health care with substance abuse treatment. This is known as integrated intervention. Experts agree this method of addressing both concerns at the same time is the ideal approach to treatment. 

Dual diagnosis treatment usually includes some or all of the following:

  • Detox: This tends to be the first step in treatment. An inpatient stay is often recommended during detox so health care providers can monitor progress and provide medical care if necessary. 
  • Therapy: Therapy is an important part of treatment. Though different treatment centers will likely offer a range of approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used. CBT, which helps people learn to change negative or harmful patterns of behavior, can be very effective for substance abuse. 
  • Group therapy: Both substance abuse treatment and mental health treatment often include group sessions. Talking through struggles in the company of others dealing with similar issues may help people discover new perspectives and feel less alone. 
  • Medication: Medications can help treat some symptoms of withdrawal during detox. They can also treat some mental health symptoms, particularly those that don’t respond as well to therapy alone. A psychiatrist or other doctor may recommend medication based on what you experience.

How Can a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center Help?

Therapy is very helpful for treating mental health issues, but many therapists aren’t trained to treat substance use disorders. Some people in therapy may be able to change patterns of substance abuse with a therapist’s help and support. It’s often the case that an intervention specialized to a person’s specific needs can have the most benefit, so a doctor or therapist may recommend a dual diagnosis treatment center to people with a diagnosed mental health issue who also abuse substances. Because the care providers at a dual diagnosis treatment center have training in addressing both substance abuse recovery and mental health symptoms, treatment may have a greater effect than treatment that only addresses one issue at a time. 

Inpatient centers (rehab) may be the best option when a person’s substance use poses a threat to themselves or others. Because inpatient centers provide around-the-clock monitoring and care, people at risk of dangerous behavior may find that an inpatient treatment center offers the best support for their needs.

What to Expect at a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center

While staying at a treatment center, you’ll most likely go through detox and receive health care if necessary. If you have any medical issues, doctors on staff can provide treatment. 

You’ll begin working with a counselor and have therapy sessions several times a week. The type of therapy may vary, depending on the program or center you choose, but you’ll work closely with a therapist to develop a course of treatment for your specific symptoms. Some centers include a variety of approaches, such as outdoor or animal therapy, art or movement therapy, and so on. Others may primarily rely on talking therapies. 

Group therapy sessions and support groups may be recommended. Your therapist may encourage you to attend these. Many centers believe working with peers is an important part of recovery. 

You’ll have time to relax and participate in activities. You’ll most likely be encouraged to spend time on various types of self-care activities, such as reading, journaling, drawing, or exercise. 

Most treatment centers encourage family visits at a set time, such as weekends. Family and loved ones can help the recovery process.

Find a Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center Near You

If you or a loved one is seeking dual diagnosis treatment, you may wonder how to find the best treatment center. You might want a center that accepts your insurance, a center that follows a certain treatment philosophy, or a non-religious center. Whatever your unique needs, GoodTherapy can help you find the right treatment center. 

First, consider what you’re looking for. A certain type of therapy? Outdoor activities? A center that specializes in the mental health condition you’ve been diagnosed with? 

Next, talk to your insurance provider. Find out what kind of services they cover and for how long. A 30-day stay is typical for many treatment programs, but some centers may have longer or shorter programs. 

Finally, you can use GoodTherapy’s residential treatment center locator to find a center in your area. These results can be filtered by type of treatment, services offered, ages accepted, and languages spoken at the center. Click on the link for the center you’re interested in to review more details about the center. The center will be happy to answer any specific questions you have about their treatment philosophy. 

As you take the first steps toward recovery, remember you aren’t alone!


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  2. Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria. (2013). Understanding dual diagnosis: Mental illness and substance use. Retrieved from
  3. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017). Dual diagnosis. Retrieved from
  4. Ten things you should know about treatment. (n.d.). Foundations Recovery Network. Retrieved from