Five of the Most Common Dual Diagnosis Disorders

Updated on September 3, 2020

Dual diagnosis is more common than not when it comes to substance use disorders. Often the cause of a substance use disorder is an underlying mental health issue. A dual diagnosis can help healthcare workers uncover and address deep-rooted issues in the patient, allowing them to create an effective action plan for recovery.

Both mental illness and addiction affect the brain in the same way. It’s not always obvious which came first, the mental illness or the addiction, but understanding how they co-occur can help practitioners accurately diagnose and treat the disorders. While there are many possible combinations, here are five of the most common mental health disorders that are dual diagnosed with substance use disorders.

1. Depression

Depression is arguably the most common dual diagnosis disorder. It’s estimated that in any given year, 6.7% of Americans are affected by depression, and often addiction comes along with it. Depression can increase the likelihood of people developing a substance use disorder, while a substance use disorder can also increase the chance of developing depression. The two go hand in hand, so it’s so common to see this dual diagnosis and knowing this can help with dual diagnosis treatment.

2. Bipolar

Bipolar disorder impacts an individual’s ability to function, making them impulsive and unable to control their mood. Around 2% of Americans are affected by bipolar disorder and 42% of those also have alcohol use disorders. Those who have a dual diagnosis with bipolar can have suicidal thoughts and erratic behavior, which is made worse by substance abuse.

3. Anxiety

Those who have anxiety often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the intense feelings. Anxiety disorders are on the rise, especially in teens, and those who don’t receive the treatment that they need may go on to experience substance use disorders. People with anxiety disorders can feel easily overwhelmed, out of control, and always worried. In turn, they can experience physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and stomach problems. Those with anxiety will often avoid social contact or use alcohol or drugs to help them cope with social interactions.

4. Eating disorders

Eating disorders often occur alongside substance use disorders. Eating disorders may progress as a result of substance use disorders, or vice versa. Those with eating disorders experience low self-esteem, sadness, and even pain, which then makes many turn towards substances to numb those feelings. It usually has the opposite effect, and the use of substances can heighten those negative feelings and make the eating disorder worse.


Attention-deficit and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder can be extremely challenging for people to manage on their own. Those with ADD or ADHD are impulsive, hyperactive, easily distracted, and disorganized, which can become extremely overwhelming. Therefore, it’s common that those suffering from these disorders will also experience substance use disorders. Again, it may start as a coping mechanism, but as people become increasingly reliant on substances, it can quickly develop into an addiction.

Understanding how these disorders co-occur allows practitioners to develop the best possible treatment plans for patients to help them recover. 

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