Dual diagnosis is a term used when someone experiences mental health issues in combination with alcohol and/or other drug use. 

Experience of dual diagnosis can differ greatly. For example, some people may experience depression or anxiety when using alcohol. Others may find that their cannabis use is impacting on their mental health.

The relationship between mental health issues and alcohol and/or other drug use is complex. It may be that mental health issues contributed to the use of alcohol and/or drugs, or that the alcohol and/or drug use contributed to mental health issues.

Treatment for dual diagnosis aims to increase the person’s awareness of the negative effects of alcohol and/or other drug use on their mental health. It also focuses on supporting people in finding positive ways to manage experiences such as distress, rather than rely on alcohol or drugs.

Alcohol and drug treatment differs based on a person’s readiness to engage in change or recovery. Harm minimisation to reduce the risks associated with alcohol and/or other drug use is the approach taken when someone identifies that they are not ready to engage in a recovery process. For example, strategies to reduce harmful levels of use or education on safe practices when using drugs or alcohol. Supporting someone when they are ready to move into recovery can involve:

  • detoxification and rehabilitation where necessary
  • education about mental health and drug and alcohol use, including how they affect each other
  • peer support: mutual support and learning from others who have had similar experiences
  • motivational interviewing: working out the pros and cons of change in order to support the decision to change
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): this therapy draws links between thought, feeling and acting and teaches techniques of creating more positive responses to those thoughts and feelings

Coordinated care is important as it is best for the mental health and drug and/or alcohol issues to be considered simultaneously. A review of current medication may be necessary. People may also need support with legal issues, health issues and other social issues that can commonly occur. Involving families, friends and carers can also be very important in supporting recovery.

Treatment and support will be different for each person. Mental health professionals should help you find treatments and supports that work best for you. This may be a combination of medication, rehabilitation and professional, family, community and peer support.

It can help to do your own research and talk to a range of professionals, trusted family and friends, or to people who have had similar experiences.

Regardless of diagnosis, people do recover and live well.

If you need to talk, call our Helpline.

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For more information, please contact Wellways on 1300 111 400.