Substance abuse disorders are complicated conditions. But when mental illness is also present, the situation becomes even more uncertain and unpredictable.

Drug and alcohol abuse are associated with a number of mental health disorders, and vice versa. When both manifest in the same person it is tempting to inquire about cause and effect: does substance abuse cause mental illness, or does mental illness cause substance abuse?

The question is interesting, but the important point is that co-occurring medical conditions must all be treated before true healing can take place. Men and women with substance abuse problems will not find health and wellness unless their co-existing disorders are also acknowledged and addressed.

In short a dual diagnosis requires a dual treatment plan, and FootPrints BHC’s innovative dual diagnosis program is broad and comprehensive enough to achieve results in even the most complex and challenging cases.


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Dual Diagnosis or Co-occurring Disorders?

The term ‘dual diagnosis’ is reserved for instances when at least one mental health condition and one substance abuse disorder are diagnosed simultaneously by qualified medical professionals.

A person who receives a dual diagnosis may suffer from a solitary chemical addiction and a single type of mental illness, or they may ultimately be diagnosed with multiple conditions. For this reason, many medical authorities prefer the term ‘co-occurring disorders’ to dual diagnosis, since the latter implies just two disorders are present which is not always the case.

How Prevalent is a Dual Diagnosis?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost half of those who suffer from chemical dependency have a co-occurring mental health disorder. Meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than half of those diagnosed with a severe mental disorder have also struggled with substance abuse.

The mental health troubles most frequently associated with chemical addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)/li>
  • Eating Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia

Why Do Substance Abuse Problems and Mental Health Disorders Occur Together?

There is no one discovery or theory that explains the chemical addiction/mental illness relationship in its entirety. Nevertheless, addiction experts and mental health specialists have suggested a number of possible reasons why the connection exists.

Here are some of the more common explanations:

  • Those with mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.
  • Drugs and alcohol worsen existing psychological and emotional issues, to the point where they become full-fledged mental health disorders.
  • Drug abuse and alcoholism cause changes in the brain that lead to mental illness.
  • People with mental health troubles may lack the capacity to regulate or monitor their consumption of drugs and alcohol.
  • Genetic or neurological factors that predispose someone to substance abuse may also leave that person vulnerable to certain types of mental illness.
  • Those who suffer from mental illness may be more susceptible to peer pressure or cultural and social influences, especially with regard to the use of drugs and alcohol.
  • People with mental illness in the early stages of a substance abuse problem may face barriers that prevent them from asking for or receiving help.
  • When mental health issues are present, the overlap of symptoms may make it difficult to detect substance abuse, causing the problem to progressively worsen.


Why is it Difficult to Make an Accurate Dual Diagnosis?

The symptoms of drug abuse, alcohol abuse and various mental health disorders are often quite similar. Consequently it may take an unfortunate amount of time before a dual diagnosis can be accurately made. The complexity of the situation may even fool addiction therapists who lack experience treating those with co-occurring disorders.

When either mental illness or a substance abuse disorder—but not both—has already been diagnosed (or is strongly suspected to be present), it is only natural to blame all your personal troubles on the known illness. But this practice can obscure the truth and leave you unprepared to deal with your problems—or understand their authentic origin.

Another barrier to a correct diagnosis is the fact that substance abuse and mental illness can interact in surprising and unexpected ways, causing you to manifest symptoms that don’t fit neatly into any particular category. This can be puzzling for you, your family and the medical professionals you consult for expert guidance and advice.

Ultimately you may require a full evaluation from a team of experts in psychiatry, psychology and addiction treatment before a diagnosis of co-occurring disorders can be made.


Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis/Co-occurring Disorders

Beyond the symptoms of the specific disorders, there are some telltale signs that may indicate co-occurring disorders are the problem. These include:

  • A pattern of hiding or covering up troubling behavior
  • Family problems or constant conflicts in intimate relationships
  • Multiple run-ins with the law
  • Risky driving behavior
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Performance problems at work or in school
  • Financial troubles leading to real-world consequences
  • Frequent visits to physicians or hospital emergency rooms

Does any of this sound familiar?

Co-occurring disorders disrupt life so significantly that scary and profound effects are inevitable. Normal living is no longer possible and unless you or your loved one gets help soon things will continue to spiral out of control.

Statistics on Dual Diagnosis

The association between substance abuse and mental illness is clear and demonstrable …


7.9 million Americans suffer from a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder together.

– 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)



29 percent of all adults diagnosed with a mental disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol.

– National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)



37 percent of alcoholics and 53 percent of drug abusers have at least one mental health disorder.

– National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)



50 percent of those with a severe form of mental illness have battled substance abuse problems.

– National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Why Co-occurring Disorders Require Special Treatment

Men and women who enter a treatment center suffering from drug and alcohol abuse are battling a serious disease that is ruining their present, threatening their futures and putting their very survival at risk. This is a universal reality, but it is doubly true when co-occurring mental health disorders are a part of the picture.

These conditions may or may not cause the substance abuse but they certainly complicate it, significantly and often in subtle ways. For those with a dual diagnosis, recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction without the accompanying mental illness also being treated is unthinkable.

If you have a dual diagnosis your treatment plan should make no priorities: every one of your co-occurring disorders is playing a role in your illness and is therefore worthy of dedicated attention. Your healing team should possess the combination of skills and experience necessary to create an integrated treatment regimen, where substance abuse and mental illness are targeted together and with equal focus and intensity.



People with co-occurring disorders are best served through integrated treatment. With integrated treatment, practitioners can address mental and substance use disorders at the same time, often lowering costs and creating better outcomes.

– Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA)


Treatment for Dual Diagnosis at FootPrints Behavioral Health Center

When you come to FootPrints BHC seeking help for your substance abuse problem, you will be thoroughly evaluated for co-occurring disorders by a team of experts with an extensive background in dual diagnosis treatment.

After the evaluation process is complete, you’ll consult with the counselors, physicians, nurses and psychiatrists assigned to support your recovery and restore you to optimal health. If co-occurring mental health disorders are discovered, they will explain to you what this means and encourage your input. You’ll then share in the creation of a comprehensive, integrated treatment regimen that will help you make a complete and sustainable recovery from addiction, even as you learn to recognize and more effectively manage your mental health issues.

Outpatient options may be available, but in most instances your recovery from a dual diagnosis will be best served through an extended stay in inpatient rehab. Treating co-occurring disorders requires concentration, discipline and intensity of effort, and all are easier to maintain in a supportive residential setting.

How is the FootPrints BHC Program Different?

At FootPrints BHC our primary goal in dual diagnosis treatment is to promote a healthier lifestyle. We know this is the best way to help you overcome substance abuse and mental illness.

Your treatment options will be varied and carefully coordinated, and will include individual, group and family therapy sessions, extensive peer group interactions, customized educational experiences and  holistic mind-body healing practices, all of which are designed to empower you even as they alter your perspective on life.  Slowly but surely you’ll learn to see your past, present and future in an entirely new light, as your focus shifts from illness to wellness and what you can do to promote and preserve it.

To guarantee a continuous and progressive recovery, you must embrace a positive, optimist mindset that will support permanent change. This is the secret behind the most successful dual diagnosis treatment and aftercare programs, and it is a principle of healing our addiction and mental health specialists fully accept and support—as will you, once you have the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

Lasting health through better living is the FootPrints BHC motto and plan for action, and it is this approach that makes our dual diagnosis treatment program one of the most successful in the business.

With a Dual Diagnosis, Healing is a Lifelong Journey

Recovery from co-occurring disorders requires a deep level of commitment. From detox through formal treatment to long-term aftercare, you or your loved one will be tested like you’ve never been tested before.

Recovering substance abusers with co-occurring mental health disorders have higher rates of relapse than those who suffer exclusively from chemical dependency. This reveals the depth of the challenge you will face as you attempt to overcome your troubled past.

But if you come to us you will be in good hands. At FootPrints BHC we understand the unique obstacles and temptations that can prevent those with co-occurring disorders from finding their freedom and regaining control over their lives, and we know what has to be done to stop your suffering in its tracks.

We have helped thousands make permanent changes and we can help you, too; a dual diagnosis is still just a diagnosis, and a satisfying outcome—in other words, a happy, productive life— is still very much within your grasp.


Not sure where to start?

Speak to one of our treatment counselors and plan your roadmap to recovery.

Call (866) 921-8893 to speak with a treatment counselor near you.




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