Dual Diagnosis

"It’s never too late to be what you might have been."

— T.S. Elliot

At times, overcoming co-occurring disorders can feel impossible and isolating. Co-occurring disorders, formerly called dual diagnoses, refer to experiencing mental illness and addiction simultaneously. The substance issues and mental illness feed each other in a vicious cycle.

At My LA Therapy, our co-occurring disorder specialists will help you attack your dual diagnoses on all fronts, breaking the vicious cycle that’s keeping you stuck and hopeless. We’ll help you learn practical strategies to overcome your addiction and mental health problems so you can break free and get your life back. We must examine both the mental health and addiction issues simultaneously in order to help you heal.

Co-Ocurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis Signs and Symptoms

Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose because there are many combinations of disorders that can occur and the symptoms vary widely. It is important to look for symptoms of substance abuse as well as symptoms of any mental health disorder such as mood disorders, depression, and anxiety.

Some of the symptoms of Substance Abuse include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Using substances under dangerous conditions
  • Engaging in risky behaviors when drunk or high
  • Loss of control over use of substances
  • Doing things you wouldn’t normally do to maintain your habit
  • Developing tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
  • Feeling like you need the drug to be able to function

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Factors and Causes of Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis

People with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience substance abuse and dependence. A person experiencing a mental health condition may turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication. They believe this will improve the troubling mental health symptoms they experience. Drugs and alcohol exacerbate the mental health condition because they have an effect on a person’s moods, thoughts, brain chemistry, and behavior.

In many cases, people receive treatment for one disorder while the other disorder remains untreated. This may occur because both mental and substance use disorders can have biological, psychological, and social components. Other reasons may be inadequate provider training or screening, an overlap of symptoms, or that other health issues need to be addressed first. In any case, the consequences of undiagnosed or untreated and under treated co-occurring disorders can lead to a higher likelihood of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, medical illnesses, suicide, or even early death.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Because there are many ways in which a dual diagnosis may occur, treatment will not be the same for everyone. Some options include:

  • Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy is almost always a large part of an effective dual diagnosis treatment plan. Education on a person’s illness and how their beliefs and behaviors influence their thoughts has been shown in countless studies to improve the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is effective in helping people with dual diagnosis learn how to cope and to change ineffective patterns of thinking.
  • Medications – Medication is a useful tool for treating a variety of mental illnesses. Depending on the mental health symptoms a person is experiencing, different mental health medications may play an important role one’s recovery. Certain medications are also helpful for people experiencing substance abuse. These medications are used to help ease withdrawal symptoms or promote recovery. Medications to ease withdrawal are used during the detoxification process. They produce similar effects in the body as certain addictive drugs.

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At My LA Therapy, our warm and experienced therapists specialize in anxiety, depression, trauma, & relationships.

More Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis

  • Detoxification – The first major hurdle that people with dual diagnosis will have to pass is detoxification. During inpatient detoxification, a person is monitored 24/7 by a trained medical staff for up to 7 days. The staff may administer tapering amounts of the substance or its medical alternative in order to wean a person off and lessen the effects of withdrawal. Inpatient detoxification is generally more effective than outpatient for initial sobriety. This is because inpatient treatment provides a consistent environment and removes the person battling addiction from exposure to people and places associated with using.
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation – A person experiencing a serious mental illness and dangerous or dependent patterns of abuse may benefit most from an inpatient rehabilitation center where she can receive concentrated medical and mental health care 24/7. These treatment centers provide her with therapy, support, medication, and health services with the goal of treating her addiction and its underlying causes. Supportive housing, like group homes or sober houses, is another type of residential treatment center that is most helpful for people who are newly sober or trying to avoid relapse. These treatment centers allow for more freedom while still providing round-the-clock care.

More Support for Co-Occurring Disorders and Dual Diagnosis

  • Self-care – Get enough rest/sleep, eat healthy, and try to be physically active/exercise every day. Avoid substances even caffeine, as it can make mental health issues worse.
  • Support Groups – Support groups allow members to share frustrations, successes, referrals for specialists, where to find the best community resources and tips on what works best when trying to recover. They also form friendships and provide encouragement to stay clean. Here are some groups that can offer support: Double Trouble in Recovery (a 12-step fellowship for people managing both a mental illness and substance abuse), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are 12-step groups for people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, and Smart Recovery is a sobriety support group program for people with a variety of addictions.

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At My LA Therapy, our highly-vetted Dual Diagnosis experts are selected not only for their clinical acumen but for who they are.

What Our Clients Say

Dual Diagnosis Therapists


  1. National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

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