Understanding what dual diagnosis is begins with understanding the link between mental health and substance abuse. This is not always cut and dry and can depend on the history of the person who has been given a dual diagnosis.

The interaction between substances and mental health doesn’t have a routine as to how it begins. As observed by Christian Mental Health Counselors, some can have mental health issues prior to substance abuse and others may have a substance abuse problem that leads to mental health issues. There are also instances of trauma that can cause both issues to start at the same time.

The basic definition of dual diagnosis, also called a co-occurring disorder, is simply a person who has been diagnosed with mental health issues and a substance abuse issue at the same time. It is the links between the two that can become complex when understanding how to help a family member who has been given a dual diagnosis.

The causes of substance abuse.

Because each person is different this makes dual diagnosis unique to that person. This makes it difficult to create a one-size-fits-all list of causes. There are common risk factors that can be found in both areas.

Environmental factors like stress and trauma are the most common risk factors in either substance abuse or mental health issues. Genetics has also been found to be a risk factor that substance abuse and mental health have in common.

There are times when a mental health disorder can contribute to substance abuse. Some people diagnosed with mental disorders may seek to self-medicate which can lead to substance abuse and addiction. Changes in the brain due to mental disorders can cause a person to be more susceptible to addictions.

The other side of that is when a drug addiction leads to mental health issues. This is a result of the drugs or substances causing changes in the brain that lead to mental health disorders. The longer the substance is abused the greater chance there is of developing a mental health issue.

The challenges of substance abuse.

When mental health issues and substance abuse occur together there is a challenge in how they are treated as dual diagnosis. An important part of the diagnosis is to understand that it can be difficult to detect which issue came first: substance abuse or mental health issues.

Other challenges that will present during dual diagnosis are:

  • Difficulty dealing with two issues at the same time. This can cause a person to become distant which will disrupt the support system.
  • Adverse reactions with medications and alcohol or other drugs.
  • A cause-and-effect routine where the relapse in one issue causes a relapse in the other.
  • Double stigma.

The treatment.

The treatment for dual diagnosis is just as unique as the person who has been diagnosed. There is no plan that can be effective for every person. It will depend on the severity of the mental health issues and the intensity of the substance abuse.

The good news is that there have been more Christian counseling services that have begun implementing faith-based treatment plans that incorporate aspects of treating both issues. Because of the need for treatment in both areas, most Christian counselors are learning how to effectively support the clients who have needs in both areas.

It has been noted that the best treatment plan is one that addresses substance abuse and mental health at the same time. Another important note is that having a routinely seen Christian counselor helps with the treatment. There are several therapies that can be used to treat dual diagnosis. Behavioral therapy and medication are two of the most common ways to treat dual diagnosis.

The complications.

Due to there being so many areas of life that can be affected by a dual diagnosis, there are also many complications that can affect those who have been diagnosed.

Complications related to physical health.

  • Poor health in general.
  • Increased risk of HIV.
  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Respiratory.
  • Cancer.
  • Increased chance of hospitalization.

Complications related to mental health.

  • Worsening psychiatric symptoms.
  • Increased isolation.
  • Thoughts of self-harm/suicide.

Complications related to lifestyle.

  • Increased interaction with the justice system.
  • Increased chance of incarceration.
  • Financial problems.
  • Homelessness.

Next steps.

Dual diagnosis may be difficult to pinpoint, but there is hope for healing. With the right combination of treatments, a person can overcome the issues and reclaim a healthy lifestyle.

If you feel that you or a loved one may suffer from substance abuse and mental health issues, reach out a Counselor at San Diego Christian Counseling in California. Your counselor in San Diego can set up an intake appointment and give you an idea of what the next steps would be for you or your loved one.

“Succulent”, Courtesy of Wendy Routman, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Potted Plant”, Courtesy of Valeriia Miller, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Potted Plant”, Courtesy of Min An, Pexels.com, CC0 License


Articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All opinions expressed by authors and quoted sources are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, publishers or editorial boards of San Diego Christian Counseling. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk.