Dual Diagnosis: When Addiction Is Only Part Of The Problem

Addiction And Depression, ADHD, PTSD, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, And Others

As you may be able to deduce from the phrase itself, "dual diagnosis" describes the process of diagnosing individuals with both an addiction and one or more psychiatric conditions at the same time. But what the phrase does not convey—and is perhaps more crucial to the patient's ability to overcome both (all) conditions—is what might be summed up as "dual treatment." In other words, because these conditions often have overlapping symptoms and consequences, it is unrealistic to treat them independently. The UCLA Dual Diagnosis Clinic was formed with this idea as a guiding principle.

Dual diagnosis is more common than you might realize. Although it is certainly possible for people to develop an addiction in the absence of another mental health problem, there is a good chance that addiction is either a consequence or cause of another condition. For example, of the 4 to 5 percent of Americans with severe Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, experts estimate that roughly half are also suffering from an addiction to a substance (including cigarettes). In fact, imaging studies have provided evidence of similarities between the brain activity of addicts and (separately) those with ADHD, with lower activity in the center that controls impulsivity (e.g., reactions to cravings) in both groups (compared to healthy counterparts). Of individuals who develop Major Depressive Disorder, about a third will also develop a concurrent substance use disorder. Another study reported the lifetime prevalence of co-occurring addiction and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to occur in about half of those individuals who develop GAD.

Although the exact reasons why the presence of one disorder increases the risk of the other is not completely clear, it has been well-established that both should be treated with acknowledgement of and equal concern for the other.