Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders

female dual diagnosis

People with a substance addiction often have another co-occurring mental illness, known as a dual diagnosis. Many treatment programs involve treating each part of the dual diagnosis separately, which studies show may not be optimal.

Some addiction treatment centers may refer the patient to another facility for mental health care. Others lack the knowledge and tools to treat both disorders, limiting the patient’s prognosis. Research continues to examine the complex mechanisms behind co-occurring disorders. While each case is unique, many factors can improve your loved one’s chances of recovery.

Prognosis of Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Although studies show that patients with a dual diagnosis generally have a more difficult path to recovery, there is still hope. Every person is unique and has the ability to overcome their disease. Studies often produce limited or contradictory findings due to individual variance.

These studies usually look at small sample sizes, making it difficult to draw adaptable conclusions. As such, families and friends of a person with a dual diagnosis should encourage their loved one to seek treatment.

Many studies support the effectiveness of individualized psychiatric and substance abuse treatment programs in patient recovery. The key is specificity. Experienced caretakers can provide individualized counseling and health examinations to determine the best treatment plan for your loved one.

Elements of a Successful Dual Diagnosis Treatment Program

For people with co-occurring disorders, specialized treatment can dramatically improve success rates. When choosing a treatment program with your loved one, verify that the caretaker will address the following topics:

  • The relationship mental illness and substance abuse
  • Underlying physical or mental health conditions in addition to the co-occurring disorders
  • Physical and mental effects of co-occurring disorders
  • Causes, symptoms, and treatment for dual diagnosis
  • An individual profile of your loved one and individualized treatment options
  • Detoxification to mitigate withdrawal symptoms
  • A medication plan that accounts for both substance abuse and the co-occurring disorder
  • Coping strategies to deal with substance cravings and physical and mental withdrawal symptoms
  • Positive thinking strategies to change your loved one’s perspective
  • An overview of the risks involved in treatment and challenges to recovery
  • Support networks and additional resources to help your loved one even after treatment
  • Individual and family counseling
  • Introduction to holistic treatment and healthy alternatives
  • Twelve-step programs designed for people with co-occurring disorders
  • How to maximize your loved one’s chances of recovery

The Importance of the Caretaker in Treatment

A strong patient-caretaker relationship is a major factor in treatment. Patients who work with and trust their caretakers are more likely to remain in treatment and stay motivated to recover. Caretakers should be proficient in treating both substance abuse and your loved one’s mental illness. The ideal treatment model looks at ways to treat both parts in close coordination rather than two standalone treatments.

A caretaker should also keep your loved one informed every step of the way. For example, if prescribing potentially addictive medications, your loved one should know the risks and alternatives before beginning treatment. Counseling and education should aim to help your loved one understand the nature of their problems and reduce feelings of shame or frustration.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders involves more variables than treatment for addiction or mental illness alone. Because substance abuse can aggravate symptoms of the mental disorder, abstinence and sobriety should generally take precedence in treatment. Without the influence of drugs and alcohol, your loved one will be better equipped to manage symptoms of the co-occurring disorder.


  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information, Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs: Chapter 12: Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders, NCBI, 2005,
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dual Diagnosis, NAMI,

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