Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis

What is dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosisis the term used when a person has a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder as well as a problem with alcohol or drugs. A person who has a dual diagnosishas two separate illnesses and to recover fully each illness needs its own treatment plan.


Dual diagnosis is associated with:

  • Worsening psychiatric symptoms
  • More frequent hospitalisation
  • Poor physical health
  • Poor adherence to prescribed medications
  • Homelessness
  • Increased risk of HIV infection
  • Poor performance in education and employment
  • Poverty
  • Increased risk of violenceand contact with the criminal justice system
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Isolation and social withdrawal

How common is dual diagnosis?

Unfortunately, this situation is more common than you think. Scientific studies have suggested roughly 1/3 of all people diagnosed with mental health issues also experience substance abuse, and more than 1/3 of alcohol abusers and 1/2 of drug abusers also struggle with mental illness.

Which one is the underlying problem, substance abuse or mental illness?

Some of the side effects of substance abuse are identical to mental illness symptoms therefore making it difficult to tell if there was a pre-existing mental illness or if the substance abuse is causing the psychiatric symptoms. Quite often the person has an underlying psychiatric disorder and has been ‘self-medicating’ with drugs and alcohol in order to feel better.

Side effects of substance abuse:

  • Alcohol – can cause anxiety and depression, morbid jealousy and hallucinations.
  • Cannabis – can cause panic attacks and depression, hallucinations and agitation.
  • Amfetamines – can cause symptoms similar to schizophrenia.
  • Hallucinogens – can trigger delusions and other psychotic symptoms.


Usually psychiatric disorders among people who are abusing drugs or alcohol disappear with prolonged periods off them. Treatment aims include:

  • reducing the harm associated with substance abuse (eg. needle exchanges, supervised consumption)
  • improving awareness of risk-taking behavior
  • setting up treatment programs (eg, detoxification)
  • drug and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) treatment for mental health problems

The Rites of Passage Ranch Long Term Program offers a non-judgmental, supportive environment to work towards developing and carrying out treatment plans for both aspects of dual diagnosis. With our residents gaining the necessary skills, motivation, and treatment for management of the underlying component, they grow in confidence to overcome the second element of the dual diagnosis as well.