Dual Diagnosis and Medications

Contributor: Written by The Refuge – A Healing Place’s clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LPC

White pillsGrappling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is a problem that is known to impact every area of a person’s life. Oftentimes, the use and abuse of a given substance become the focal point of an individual’s universe, leaving all that was once important to fall to the wayside.

Relationships with others begin to suffer, occupational performance can decline, financial difficulties become apparent, and the physical health of the abuser can deteriorate and lead to a whole host of other complications. Furthermore, these resulting consequences can become apparent early on and quickly worsen, especially when an individual is battling a mental health condition at the same time.

What is Dual Diagnosis

When a person is struggling with addiction and mental illness at the same, it is known as dual diagnosis. For many individuals battling a chemical dependency problem, the inception of such a concern began as an attempt to cope with the distressing symptoms of an existing mental health disorder.

Certain disorders, such as anxiety or depression, can cause a person to turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a means of escaping from their inner turmoil, as the effects of such substances can make an individual feel detached from their emotional pain and strife.

When mental illness symptoms are severe, the desire to emotionally escape from intense feelings via substance abuse can often be so overpowering because of the false sense of relief achieved when under the influence.

Worsening Symptoms

Additionally, some mental illness symptoms can become apparent after a person has found him or herself trapped in the cycle of addiction. The penetrating feelings of self-defeat experienced by an individual when he or she resumes use of a substance after trying to end his or her addiction can cause symptoms that are synonymous with depression to manifest.

pills used for treating Dual DiagnosisOver time, these symptoms can worsen and meet criteria for a clinical diagnosis of depression, of which can be a likely outcome for someone with a family history of this or another mental health disorder.

In the event a person seeks treatment for a chemical dependency problem, the mental health professionals supplying care will likely inquire about an individual’s history of mental illness.

Watching For More Than One Illness

Even if a person discloses that he or she has previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition, assessments done prior to starting treatment will look for any additional symptoms of other mental illnesses at the same time.

The reason this is done is to offer the person the greatest chance of being successful while in treatment. Uncovering and diagnosing a mental illness in a person with a chemical dependency problem can alter an individual’s treatment plan, as any existing mental health disorder will need to be treated in addition to the substance abuse concerns.

In doing this, the person will be able to heal and recover in an all-encompassing way.

Using Medications to Help Treat Dual Diagnosis

What is important to know, however, is that caring for the symptoms of a mental health condition can involve the use of certain medications as part of an individual’s treatment plan. When a person is working to overcome an addiction, the addition of such medications can make the recovery process a bit more complicated.

問診をする医師Especially when the person seeking treatment has a history of self-medicating, the professionals supplying treatment will need to be mindful of how these medications can impact the recovery process.

Close monitoring by treatment providers, adherence to medication recommendations, and open communication between the person in treatment and his or her psychiatrist with regards to how he or she is responding to any medications prescribed are all necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the medication(s) taken.

Furthermore, those in treatment will need to be mindful and made aware of the following when taking medication(s) for a psychiatric condition(s):

    • Any potential side effects that could occur when taking a given medication
    • The risk for abuse or addictiveness for any medication prescribed
    • How the use of drugs and/or alcohol can impact the effectiveness of medications, along with the risks involved should a person use these substances when taking psychotropic medication

If a person’s treatment provider does not inherently provide this information, it is important for the individual to ask about it.

Finding Proper Care for Dual DIagnosis

There are a number of treatment providers, however, that effectively treat dual diagnosis and put forth the effort to ensure that those seeking substance abuse treatment are receiving care that addresses and treats co-occurring mental health concerns.

Group therapy in session for Dual DiagnosisHolistic treatment providers, more specifically, broach the care of substance abuse by treating the whole person and are mindful of how the use of psychotropic medications can impact the recovery process.

Even if the individual is not aware that he or she is suffering from a mental illness, this type of treatment provider can identify and treat co-occurring mental health concerns, recommend and monitor medications prescribed with a close eye, and instill the skills needed to achieve and sustain recovery and a healthy lifestyle.


[1] http://www2.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/About_Mental_Illness/By_Illness/Dual_Diagnosis_Substance_Abuse_and_Mental_Illness.htm

[2] http://dualdiagnosis.org/mental-health-and-addiction/medications/

About the Author:

This blog was written by The Refuge – A Healing Pace’s clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC. Heather has several years of experience working in the field of mental health as a psychotherapist and has her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Concordia University – Chicago.

Site Description:

With an awareness that addiction and trauma are closely linked, The Refuge – A Healing Place offers superior care for those who wish to recover from chemical dependency concerns and overcome trauma from the past.

The approach to treatment featured at this exemplary center is holistic in nature, with care focused on healing the whole person and not just the strife occurring in that individual’s life. The staff of caring professionals employed at The Refuge are expertly-trained to care for every need of every client who receives these beneficial and life-changing services.

At The Refuge, true healing and lasting recovery are achieved because of the attention paid to each person’s mind, body, and spirit.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 28, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 11, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com