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    Five Reasons Why Dual Diagnosis Treatment Is Vital in Addiction Recovery

    Dual diagnosis (also referred to as co-occurring disorder) is when an individual has a substance use disorder and mental illness simultaneously.

    For example, a person may have a cocaine addiction and anxiety disorder at the same time and, as is often the case, may require treatment from a professional who specialises in dual diagnosis treatment.

    Co-occurring disorders are a prevalent issue across the globe. For instance, a 2020 study showed that over 17 million US adults experienced mental health issues along with a substance use disorder.

    Many rehabilitation centres and clinics specialise in dual diagnosis treatment, which is comforting as these programs focus on the underlying factors of substance addiction as well as symptom management.

    Many people turn to alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behaviours like gambling or compulsive shopping to forget, numb, or push down unpleasant mental health symptoms and emotions.

    Self-medicating through substances or behaviours is one way to forget or distract oneself from unwanted memories or a painful past.

    Alcohol and drugs often serve as numbing agents, temporarily glossing over an individual’s emotional (and sometimes physical) pain, helping them feel more socially connected, confident, and regulated.

    However, the keyword here is ‘temporarily.’ 

    Once the effects of alcohol or drugs have worn off, the emotional hangover begins to creep in, and the person’s symptoms return, often with a vengeance.

    Here, we will explore five reasons why dual diagnosis treatment is vital in addiction recovery. 

    In the meantime, if you (or a loved one) suspect you may have a co-occurring disorder, it may be time to speak to a mental health professional who can advise you further.

    Dual diagnosis treatment in South Africa: Meet our team

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Meet our team

    At White River Manor, we provide a holistic treatment program for dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders shaped around your unique needs and preferences.

    Our friendly, multidisciplinary team comes from diverse backgrounds and specialties but share a common goal: to support you in restoring balance to your mind, body, and soul.

    Our dual diagnosis programs integrate behavioural therapies, medical management, psychiatric evaluation, healthy eating, and exercise options to ensure lasting healing and transformational recovery.

    We also offer group support, family programs, and a thorough aftercare service to help you track your progress and maintain sobriety and wellness after you complete treatment.

    To learn more about our dual diagnosis program, contact our friendly team at our stunning South African recovery centre today, who will happily assist.

    We are always here to answer your questions and lend a warm, compassionate ear.

    Five reasons why dual diagnosis treatment is vital in addiction recovery

    As well as treating your addictive symptoms, dual diagnosis treatment explores the whole picture, including your history (such as any unresolved trauma), genetics, current symptoms, and emotional difficulties, as well as any other physical or mental health conditions you may have. 

    Dual diagnosis treatment addresses both conditions together and may include a combination of the following therapies:

    • Behavioural therapy 
    • Support groups
    • Inpatient treatment
    • Medication

    At its core, dual diagnosis treatment works with the belief that at the root of all addiction is pain. 

    Therefore, the goal is to address the root cause of an individual’s suffering and explore what lies underneath the desire to numb, distract, and turn to the bottle or pills.

    Integrated treatment programs such as dual diagnosis offer those in addiction recovery much hope for the future as it enables individuals to work through any lifelong issues, get a handle on their addiction, and build resilience for the future.

    As well as the above, there are some other reasons why dual diagnosis is so effective for those in addiction recovery, five of which are outlined below.

    1. Improved recovery outcomes

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Recovery and Better Outcomes

    Much research has shown that those with co-occurring disorders experience significantly better treatment outcomes when both conditions are treated at the same time.

    Moreover, research shows various significant clinical outcomes for those with untreated dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder issues, including:

    • Suicidal behaviour, suicide, or violence – Studies show those suffering from a substance use disorder and mental illness are at increased risk of suicidal behaviour, suicide, aggression, and violence.
    • Serious illness and relapse – Individuals with dual diagnosis tend to have more severe illnesses and increased relapse rates compared to those with one disorder or condition.
    • Social withdrawal and relationship issues – Those with dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders often withdraw or self-isolate to cope with the effects of substance use and poor mental health, causing various complications in their personal and professional relationships.

    Dual diagnosis treatment blends various therapeutic modalities and methods to help clients achieve lasting sobriety and psychological wellness, such as:

    Addressing both aspects of a mental health and addiction disorder together can help improve a person’s overall well-being and treatment outcomes.

    2. Comprehensive support systems

    Like most integrated treatment programs, dual diagnosis usually involves supportive systems like group therapy, peer support, and family therapy.

    Those with addiction and mental health challenges often feel lonely and isolated. Loneliness and addiction are usually deeply correlated with one another.

    For instance, loneliness not only leads people to addiction, but it can also be the very thing that leads them back there once they have gotten sober.

    Moreover, loneliness is considered a relapse trigger for those in addiction recovery.

    Therefore, dual diagnosis treatment focuses on social connection through peer groups, sober communities, and family support, as these programs offer a robust support network essential for lasting recovery.

    3. Stigma reduction

    One research paper describes stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular person, quality, or circumstance. 

    Many may be surprised to learn that persons with either psychiatric illness or substance use disorders, their family members, caregivers, as well as health professionals engaged in the management of these persons are subject to stigma. (Stigma in dual diagnosis: A narrative review, ResearchGate, January 2016.)

    Treatment programs that address and resolve mental health and addiction issues together can help reduce the stigma heavily associated with these conditions.

    Moreover, this approach helps to cultivate a more empathetic, compassionate approach to these interrelated disorders.

    Most of us are aware of the profound stigma attached to addiction and mental health; individuals living with both a substance use disorder and mental illness are familiar with this stigma more than anyone.

    Dual diagnosis programs cultivate a collaborative environment where those with co-occurring disorders feel more accepted, heard, and understood by others, leading to improved recovery outcomes and reduced relapse rates.

    4. Awareness and education

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Awareness and education

    Dual diagnosis programs provide psychoeducation and awareness to clients (and their families) in treatment, helping them to better understand mental health and substance use disorder issues and the complex relationship between the two.

    Clients with a clearer understanding of the complicated dynamic between mental health and addiction can develop practical coping strategies and build awareness around their addictive triggers, reducing their risk of relapsing in the future.

    For instance, if an individual feels their anxiety creeping in, they can utilise the skills learned in treatment, such as cognitive reframing and mindfulness techniques, instead of resorting to old, unhelpful behaviours such as drinking or drug-taking to manage unpleasant symptoms.

    Education and awareness armour individuals and families with vital information and resources to help them manage and support one another through rough patches and recognise any red flags that may require further intervention.

    5. Relapse prevention

    As mentioned earlier, untreated mental health issues can lead to self-medication, where individuals turn to the bottle or drugs to cope with unpleasant feelings, emotions, and symptoms.

    Because dual diagnosis addresses the underlying mental health issues that either cause or worsen a person’s substance use, these programs can help reduce the risk of relapse as the person no longer feels the need to escape or numb difficult or painful emotions.

    Unpacking and exploring an individual’s underlying trauma and other negative emotions and beliefs through dual diagnosis treatment helps to release the emotional tension from the body.

    Hence, the person is liberated from the clutches of lifelong, restrictive mental health symptoms that lead them to cycles of self-destruction, such as substance abuse.

    What does dual diagnosis treatment involve?

    Dual diagnosis treatment requires a multifaceted, integrated approach to help clients achieve sustainable wellness and sobriety.

    Below are some of the programs included in dual diagnosis treatment:

    Medical detox

    The first step in dual diagnosis treatment is medical detox, which involves ridding your body of substances and toxins. 

    It is usually conducted in an inpatient environment under the guidance and management of experienced healthcare professionals.

    Psychological therapy 

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Psychotherapy treatment

    Psychotherapy treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is often used in dual diagnosis to help individuals explore and change maladaptive thoughts and behavioural patterns that may have caused or worsened their substance use disorder. 

    Once an individual’s symptoms are under control, they can learn healthy coping skills to help them manage their emotional difficulties and addictive triggers to prevent relapse.

    Support groups 

    As mentioned, support groups are integral in addiction and mental health treatment, helping individuals feel more connected and understood as they navigate the bumpy road to recovery. 

    These programs offer individuals a platform to share advice, air their concerns and frustrations, celebrate milestones and successes and get support from others who can relate to their experiences.

    Inpatient or residential treatment

    Individuals with dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders often benefit from inpatient treatment, where they can receive around-the-clock support and care from experienced healthcare professionals.

    Aftercare and support 

    Aftercare support programs provide continuous care, support, and therapy to clients after they complete treatment.

    These programs can help individuals navigate life after addiction and manage their mental health symptoms while receiving professional care, support, and resources along the way.

    Symptoms of a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder 

    White River Manor - Treatment in South Africa - Dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder symptoms

    Dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder symptoms can vary depending on a person’s health status, background, and severity of symptoms.

    However, typically, the warning signs that someone may have a co-occurring addiction and mental health disorder often include:

    • Poor performance at school or work
    • Being secretive or engaging in suspicious behaviours
    • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
    • Mood changes, irritability, or uncontrollable angry outbursts
    • Lack of motivation or energy
    • Anxiety, paranoia, or fear
    • Changes in personality or attitude
    • Weight changes
    • Slurred speech
    • Changes in your friendship group or social circle
    • Constantly needing to borrow money from friends or family 
    • Continued use of substances despite the negative consequences to your health and relationships


    Although co-occurring disorders can cause many unpleasant symptoms and complications in a person’s life, with the proper help, support, and treatment, recovery is possible.

    Living with a substance use disorder and mental illness can be profoundly challenging and life-limiting, as one condition may exacerbate the other.

    For instance, if you struggle with depression, the unpleasant symptoms you experience may fuel your need to engage in substance use as a way of coping.

    You must seek professional guidance and help if you think you have a co-occurring disorder, as this can help you manage the symptoms of both conditions, allowing you to feel better and more able to manage your life.

    Contact a specialist at White River Manor today who can help you get an accurate diagnosis and develop an effective treatment plan to help you overcome your addiction and mental health challenges once and for all.

    To learn more about our dual diagnosis program, speak to a specialist today for a confidential chat.

    We are here and ready to help.

    Additional resources

    1. Stigma in dual diagnosis: A narrative review, ResearchGate, January 2016
    2. What Is a Dual Diagnosis? Verywell mind, Sanjana Gupta, 25 August 2022