The term dual diagnosis is used to describe people who are suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction as well as an emotional or psychological disorder.  This condition, also known as co-occurring disorders, affects a large percentage of people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs.  Some of the disorders that are most common in a dual diagnosis are depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  When an individual is affected by dual diagnosis, the drug or alcoholism rehab process is more complex.

For many people, drugs or alcohol are used to self-medicate an underlying problem like depression, anxiety or trauma.  Substance abuse may bring temporary relief, but in the long term it will compound the original problem.  For example, the symptoms of depression can be intensified by long-term alcohol abuse.  Richard Shadick, a professor of psychology at New York's Pace University, describes the problem: "Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it slows down the body and the mind… If someone is already down, drinking alcohol will only increase the depression."

People with co-occurring disorders are at greater risk for injury, including death by suicide.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has published research that states that 75 percent of all suicides in the U.S. involve depression and alcohol.  Individuals with dual diagnosis also face more social and physical problems.  If they seek treatment for their substance abuse problem, the challenges of drug or alcoholism rehab are greater.

It has been estimated that roughly 14 million Americans are affected by alcoholism or drug addiction and a co-occurring disorder.  In the past, it was believed that treating the substance abuse issue would also take care of other emotional or psychological problems.  Recent research in the fields of drug and alcoholism rehab indicates that this is not the case.  Effective treatment for alcoholism and addiction must include a psychiatric assessment to determine if one or more co-occurring disorders exist, followed by a treatment plan that addresses each disorder.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Disorders, the most effective treatment for dual diagnosis addresses both problems at the same time and in the same setting.  Drug and alcoholism rehab has the best chance of success when it provides equal and integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders.  Treatment for dual diagnosis must be tailored for the individual and involve a team that may include psychiatrists, healthcare professionals, social workers and substance abuse counselors who understand how co-occurring disorders interact.  Following detoxification, treatment will include group therapy, psychiatric counseling and in some cases medication.