How to Manage Dual Diagnosis in Recovery

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If you have a mental health disorder, you are at a higher risk for developing substance use disorder (SUD). There is a bidirectional correlation between the two. This means that people with SUDs are also more likely to have mental health disorders. When this happens, mental health professionals refer to it as a dual diagnosis. 

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is the diagnosis of co-occurring disorders, which is characterized by a person with both a mental health disorder and SUD. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), roughly 37.9% of individuals who are diagnosed with SUD have a dual diagnosis. More than one in four people diagnosed with a mental health disorder have co-occurring SUD.

That's an estimated 9.2 million adults with dual diagnoses in the United States. However, this does not mean that one causes the other. Researchers theorize the bidirectional correlation between mental health and SUDs may involve:

  • Common risk factors among both disorders such as stress, trauma, environmental factors, genetics, and personality traits like impulsivity
  • People using substances to self-medicate mental health symptoms
  • Substance use changing people's brain chemistry, putting them at a greater risk for developing SUD and mental health disorders

Domino Effect

Co-occurring disorders must be treated simultaneously. They cannot be isolated from each other. SUD will impact your mental health symptoms and vice versa. Since this makes it impossible to treat the disorders separately, integrated treatment is used to tackle both disorders simultaneously. 

Having a dual diagnosis can make treatment more complicated. Substance abuse exacerbates mental health symptoms making it difficult to find coping mechanisms that work. People who have co-occurring disorders cannot be treated for either disorder until detox is completed to mitigate the effects substances have on mental health symptoms.

Educating Yourself on Your Dual Diagnosis

Diagnoses are meant to be used as a guideline for treatment during your recovery journey. The more you understand about your mental health diagnoses, the easier it will be to navigate mental health symptoms. This will make it easier to understand the impact your mental health symptoms have on your overall well-being. Having this knowledge can guide you to the coping strategies that work best for you.

Coping Strategies for Dual Diagnosis

Integrated treatment might include talk therapy and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in combination with various complementary treatments. Everybody responds to treatment differently. Even people with the same two diagnoses will have vastly different responses to the same types of treatment. The purpose of treatment is to find coping strategies that help you mitigate both mental health and substance abuse symptoms.


The philosophy of mindfulness can be found in yoga and meditation practices. Mindfulness can help you manage anxiety and depressive symptoms. It can also help dispel toxic thoughts and offer a healthier perspective on your life. 

The idea of mindfulness is all about staying present. Through the use of meditation, yoga, or thought exercises, mindfulness connects you to the present moment through sensory images, sensations, and breathwork. It's the practice of calming any overwhelming thoughts so you can process your emotions from a place of understanding and forethought. 


Part of your recovery will require you to have a healthier understanding of your emotions. Journaling can help you better process your thoughts and emotions. It can also help you pinpoint the stressors in your life that are causing you to feel overwhelmed. 

Through journaling, you may also discover what toxic thoughts may be contributing to your stress. You can journal with prompts or free form, and you can write complete sentences or bullet points. As long as you can track your emotions, thoughts, and feelings, there's no right or wrong way to journal.

Yoga and Meditation

Not only can yoga and meditation help you practice mindfulness, but they can also facilitate the relaxation of your mind and body. Yoga and meditation can be practiced simultaneously or separately. Many guided meditations set specific intentions at the beginning of the meditation session. Some meditation sessions might focus on general relaxation, destressing, improving sleep, or improving focus.

Practicing yoga will help you feel more connected with your body. Yoga directly links mental and physical health by giving you a format that allows you to work on both at the same time. Breathing into your muscles while you perform various yoga poses can give you a sense of control over your mind and body. 

The Importance of Continued Care For Dual Diagnosis

Mental health disorders and SUD are both chronic disorders. This means that a person with a dual diagnosis must continue with psychological care to manage symptoms even after completing a treatment program. Continued care might take the form of non-intensive outpatient therapy, keeping contact with your peers from recovery programs, or attending recovery group sessions. It will also require you to practice the coping techniques you used during treatment so that when you hit a rough patch in your recovery, you will have coping tools ready to use.

A dual diagnosis can guide you on your recovery journey and lead you to treatment that will effectively help you navigate both mental health and substance abuse symptoms. Pathways Recovery Center can provide support no matter where you are along your recovery journey. Our mental health professionals can work closely with you to create a treatment program that is tailored specifically to your needs. At Pathways Recovery Center, we do recovery, one day and one person at a time to give you the individualized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders, call (888) 771-0966 to learn more about how our program can guide you along your recovery journey.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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