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Defining Dual Diagnosis

therapist taking notes while patient lies on couch - dual diagnosis treatmentFor well over twenty years in addiction and behavioral health circles, the question was debated: Just what is Dual Diagnosis Treatment? The most common definition is that persons who need Dual Diagnosis Treatment suffer from both addictions and psychiatric conditions.

What Alcoholics Anonymous Says about Dual Diagnosis:

Alcoholics Anonymous has long maintained (70 years) that people who suffer from alcohol addiction are suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Medical professionals, not without controversy, have debated the validity of what came first, addiction or mental illness. Is there such a thing as physical addiction, the disease concept if you will or is it a manifestation of an underlying illness that drives the addict to self-medicate? For decades, the debate centered around a chicken and egg argument, i.e., which came first the addiction or the mental illness.

Although not completely understood, it is no longer debated. Most professionals accept that in some cases, namely those persons who face addiction and psychiatric disorders, Dual Addiction Treatment is the most powerful tool in the box.

Alcoholism as a mental illness

In 1956, the American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a mental illness. It was not until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that the idea of co-concurring (dual diagnosis) alcoholism and psychiatric diagnosis began appearing. Some of the more debilitating mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia began to be diagnosed along with the diagnosis of alcoholism and other addictions, and began to be recognized by professionals. Out of this recognition was born the need for Dual Diagnosis treatment.

Even today, the need for dual diagnosis treatment is not always recognized by medical personnel.  However, more and more professionals recognize the benefit. A major advantage is that the patient in a Dual Diagnosis Treatment facility has their addiction and their mental illness treated under the same roof. Their treatment plan is supervised by the same facility rather than between several practitioners.

Separating the dual nature of the challenges most addicts face is now widely thought to be the primary reason for the high relapse rates amongst addicts.

One traditional approach is to treat the addiction and then try to address the underlying mental problems. The challenge is this: the addict often cannot withstand the pain of the psychiatric disorder long enough to withstand relapse

Another variation of traditional treatment is to treat both conditions, the addiction and the psychiatric disorder, at the same time but separately. This leads to both professionals laboring mightily with an incomplete picture of the patient’s condition.

It makes more sense to many enlightened facilities to treat both issues at the same time in the same facility.

In order to fully treat trauma, depression and chemical imbalances – hallmarks of the addiction struggle – the underlying psychiatric issues must be co-concurrently dealt with so that the patient has a chance to recover without one part of the problem overcoming the other and causing relapse and demoralization. This is best accomplished in a Dual Diagnosis Treatment setting.

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Alcoholics Anonymous : Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hryb, K., Kirkhart, R., & Talbert, R. (n.d.). A Call for Standardized Definition of Dual Diagnosis. Retrieved from

What Is Dual Diagnosis? (n.d.). Retrieved from