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Dual Diagnosis


Drug and alcohol addiction are serious problems in Wisconsin and throughout the country, and often they are accompanied by the presence of a mental health or emotional disorder. These are known as co-existing disorders and they must be treated alongside the patient’s substance abuse problem; otherwise, treatment for the addiction alone will be ineffective. Fortunately, Wisconsin rehab clinics offer treatment for co-existing disorders, also known as a dual diagnosis, that are designed to help patients who suffer from both an addiction and mental health issue.

What is dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is a condition in which a person suffers from an addiction to drugs or alcohol and a co-existing mental or emotional disorder that affects or is affected by their substance abuse. Mental conditions and addictions have complex cause-and-effect characteristics. In some cases, a mental disorder may drive the patient towards the abuse of drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. In other cases, an addiction may trigger a dormant mental or emotional disorder in the patient. In many cases, however, both the disorder and the addiction reinforce each other.

Dual diagnosis interactions

Many specific co-existing disorders have particular cause-and-effect relationships with addiction. These are among the most common:

  • Depression: Many depression sufferers turn to alcohol or drugs to seek relief from the emotional pain caused by their condition. Alcoholism is especially prevalent among depressed patients. However, alcohol has the effect of deepening depression because of its character as a depressant.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The traumatic flashbacks that are a result of PTSD cause great emotional distress in its sufferers. Some PTSD victims use alcohol and drugs to seek relief from this distress.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD, in its severest forms, can be very disruptive to the life of the sufferer. Patients feel compelled to take part in repetitive and irrational behaviors. Opiate use has the side effect of temporarily relieving the symptoms of OCD, and some people who suffer from OCD will abuse opiates for this reason.
  • Anxiety: Anxiety sufferers commonly use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to find relief from the sporadic panic attacks that the condition causes.
  • Eating disorders: Certain eating disorders have specific relationships with addiction. Some anorexics, for example, abuse caffeine and other drugs that promote extreme weight loss. Other sufferers of eating disorders experience body dysmorphia, a condition that causes a distorted physical self-image. This condition often contributes to depression and alcoholism.

An estimated four million Americans suffer from an addiction and a co-existing disorder.

Dual diagnosis treatment methods

A treatment program for dual diagnosis patients must take into account both the addiction and the co-existing disorder. The following methods are commonly used to help patients who suffer from co-existing disorders:

  • Psychopharmacology: Specific medications may be prescribed to help the patient control the symptoms of his disorder. These drugs can also help create the conditions for a successful recovery from addiction.
  • Psychotherapy: This form of therapy is commonly used to help patients identify their mental or emotional disorders. By diagnosing the patient throughout the course of one-on-one counseling sessions, the psychotherapist can recommend an appropriate course of treatment for the patient.
  • Behavioral management: CBT, or cognitive-behavioral therapy, is designed to help the patient identify the aspects of his life that may cause him stress and contribute to his addiction. By doing so, the patient can learn how to more effectively deal with his stress in a way that does not involve drug or alcohol use.


Following rehab, the patient must continue to pursue therapy in the form of aftercare. The patient may be advised to continue one-on-one therapy courses. He may also enroll in a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which provides recovering addicts with a nonjudgmental and supportive space in which they can connect and build friendships, or in an alternative form of therapy such as music or yoga therapy. These activities can help the patient maintain sobriety in the long run.

If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, pick up the phone and dial an addiction specialist today. A sober, fulfilling future awaits.