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How to Treat Dual Diagnosis

Learn how to treat dual diagnosis with personalized and evidence-based approaches. Get the support you need for a lasting recovery.

Table of Contents

What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

In order to know how to treat dual diagnosis, it is important to know the condition. Having a dual diagnosis means you have both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder at the same time. Dual diagnosis is also referred to as co-occurring disorder.1

Dual diagnosis is a challenging condition. This is because the two disorders can often interact with and worsen each other. It’s important to understand that individuals with a dual diagnosis need treatment that addresses both mental health and substance use concerns.
how to treat dual diagnosis

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

There are several common co-occurring disorders. Some of the most frequent occurring mental health disorders in those with substance use disorders include:2

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders

It’s important to note that the combination of disorders can vary from person to person. Each individual’s experience with dual diagnosis will be unique. Proper diagnosis and treatment are important. 

This helps to address the specific needs of each person and gets closer to learning how to treat dual diagnosis.

Why Accurate Diagnosis Is Important for Treating Dual Diagnosis

Having a dual diagnosis is important for co-occurring conditions. This is because it recognizes the complex connection between mental health and substance use. It’s common for individuals with mental health disorders to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with their symptoms.

Substance use can also exacerbate symptoms of mental illness, making it harder to manage and treat both disorders. Thus, treating both disorders at the same time is essential because doing so ensures long-term recovery and prevents relapse.

Getting an Accurate Diagnosis

It’s crucial to recognize that dual diagnosis is a chronic condition. It often requires ongoing management and support. But with proper treatment, recovery is possible. This is why receiving an accurate diagnosis is so important in knowing how to treat dual diagnosis.
Accurate diagnosing ensures that individuals receive the appropriate treatment. Getting an accurate diagnosis can be challenging for dual diagnosis cases. This is because symptoms of mental illness and substance use disorders can overlap or mask each other.3

What Happens if the Diagnosis Is Incorrect?

If an individual does not receive a correct diagnosis, their treatment may only address one aspect of their condition. 

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, symptoms are more likely to recur or become chronic. Accurate diagnosing ensures that individuals receive the most effective treatment possible.

How to Treat Dual Diagnosis

There are several effective treatment approaches for learning how to treat dual diagnosis. The most appropriate treatment depends on the individual’s needs and circumstances. Some common approaches include the following:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It focuses on recognizing thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to distress. It can also help individuals develop coping skills and relapse-prevention strategies.4

Motivational Interviewing

This approach focuses on helping individuals identify their reasons for change. While also building motivation to make positive changes in their lives. It can be particularly effective for individuals who may be resistant to treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT involves the use of medication to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. This approach is often used in conjunction with therapy and other forms of support.

Support Groups

Support groups, such as 12-step programs, can provide a sense of community and support for those with dual diagnosis. These groups can help individuals feel less isolated and provide a safe space to share experiences and struggles.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT focuses on helping individuals regulate their emotions and manage interpersonal relationships. DBT helps to develop skills to manage intense emotions, as well as understanding and accepting difficult feelings.5

Holistic Treatment

Holistic therapies can help to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Common holistic treatments that may be combined with traditional therapies include yoga, meditation, art therapy, music therapy, and many others in holistic treatment.
When you or a loved one are searching for how to treat dual diagnosis, it’s important to note that effective treatment often involves a combination of these approaches.

Types of Programs for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

You may encounter various treatment options when searching for how to treat dual diagnosis. There are several different programs for treating dual diagnosis, including:
  • Medical detoxification: This is a medically supervised process. It helps individuals safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol. It is a process that can be completed at home under the supervision of a medical provider or in a medical facility for 24/7 support and safety.
  • Residential treatment: A residential or inpatient program is one in which an individual lives at a facility during treatment. These programs provide care and support in a structured and safe environment. Residential programs often include individual and group therapy, educational workshops, peer support, and case management.


  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP): These programs provide intensive daily treatment. But allow individuals to return home at night. PHP treatment usually occurs 4 to 8 hours per day for up to 5 days a week.


  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): Intensive outpatient programs are less intense than a PHP. But still, provide structured treatment several times a week. Treatment often occurs 1 to 3 hours a day for 3 to 4 days a week.


  • Outpatient treatment: Outpatient therapy often involves meeting with a therapist once a week for ongoing treatment.
The type of program used will depend on the individual’s specific needs. So, when looking at how to treat dual diagnosis, it is important to find the treatment that’s right for you.

The Importance of a Personalized Treatment Approach

A personalized dual diagnosis treatment approach takes into account the individual’s needs, circumstances, preferences, values, and beliefs. So, if you’re looking for how to treat dual diagnosis, it’s important to find one that suits you.
Here are some ways to personalize a treatment approach:
  • Comprehensive assessment: A comprehensive assessment can help identify specific needs and challenges. It can also help determine the best course of treatment. This may include an evaluation of your mental health, medical and substance use history, and social support.
  • Personalized treatment plan: Based on the assessment, you will develop a personalized treatment plan. This plan incorporates practices that address your concerns and goals.  
  • Flexibility: A personalized treatment approach should adapt to your changing needs. Treatment plans get adjusted – as needed – throughout treatment to ensure the best results.  
  • Support systems:Building a strong support system can be essential in maintaining recovery. A personalized treatment approach may include family therapy, couples therapy, and social support skill building.  
  • Continuum of care: A personalized treatment approach should consider your long-term needs and support ongoing recovery. This may include aftercare planning, ongoing therapy, and participation in support groups.

Developing a Personalized Treatment Plan

Personalized treatment is important in knowing how to treat dual diagnosis. This is because it recognizes that every individual’s experience is unique.
You want to look for a treatment approach that considers certain factors, such as your medical history, family history, and mental health symptoms.

Challenges With How to Treat Dual Diagnosis

Learning how to treat dual diagnosis can be challenging. This is due to the complex interaction between mental health and substance use disorders.

Here are some challenges of treating dual diagnosis:
  • Misdiagnosis: Symptoms of co-occurring disorders can overlap or mask each other. This may lead to misdiagnosis. Many conditions may also present with similar symptoms, making it more difficult to get an accurate diagnosis.
  • Coordinated Care: Coordinating care for both mental health and substance use disorders can be challenging. This is especially true if the individual is receiving care from many providers.
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can be physically and emotionally challenging, making engaging in treatment difficult. 
  • Relapse:Relapse is common in individuals with dual diagnosis. Relapse triggers may include stress, social isolation, specific situations, people, or exposure to drugs or alcohol. 
  • Stigma: There is often a stigma surrounding mental health and substance use disorders. This can make it more difficult for individuals to feel comfortable seeking treatment.
  • Lack of Social Support: Social support is important in maintaining recovery. Individuals with dual diagnosis may have difficulty building or maintaining social connections.
  • Medication Management:Medication management can be challenging. This is because of the potential interactions of medications, as well as the potential for abuse in medication, like anti-anxiety medication. 

Tips to Address the Challenges of How To Treat Dual Diagnosis

Though there may be challenges in how to treat dual diagnosis, there are several ways to address those challenges.
By addressing any challenges to treatment, you can receive the best care possible. Here are some tips for addressing those challenges:


Receive a comprehensive assessment that includes a thorough evaluation. A good assessment should include both mental health and substance use concerns. This helps to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Coordinated Care

Ensure that all providers involved in your care are communicating and collaborating.


Receive appropriate medical care and support to help manage withdrawal symptoms.

Relapse Prevention

Engage in ongoing support and therapy. This helps to continue to develop coping skills and relapse prevention strategies.

Addressing Stigma

Learn about your co-occurring conditions. Be open to communicating to reduce the stigma.

Building Social Support

Engage in family therapy or support groups to help build a support system. This can increase guidance and accountability.

Medication Management

Track medication use. Talk to your medical provider about symptoms and side effects.

How to Treat Dual Diagnosis With Boardwalk Recovery

Boardwalk Recovery in San Diego offers intensive outpatient programs in how to treat dual diagnosis. Boardwalk Recovery’s treatment programs offer:
  • Traditional evidence-based therapies, like CBT and DBT
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Family therapy
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Individual and group therapies
  • Life skills building
  • Outdoor group therapy
  • Job skill building
  • Aftercare support

Allow Boardwalk Recovery to Guide You on Your Wellness Journey

By seeking treatment at Boardwalk Recovery, individuals with a dual diagnosis can receive the personalized care and support they need to achieve lasting recovery.
Our treatment programs integrate evidence-based and holistic therapies to treat the whole person. Our treatment approach is tailored to you to provide you with the skills to live your best life.

Reach Out Today

By seeking treatment at Boardwalk Recovery, you can receive the care and support you need to achieve lasting recovery. So, if you’re searching for how to treat dual diagnosis, look no further. Contact us today, and we’ll get you started on your individualized treatment.
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