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Dual Diagnosis
Dual diagnosis is a term that refers to patients who have both a mental health disorder and substance use disorder. It may be used interchangeably with "co-occurring disorders" or "co morbidity." According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 10 million people in the United States will have a combination of at least one mental health and one substance abuse disorder in any twelve-month period. Substance abuse is the most common and significant co-occurring disorder among adults with such severe mental illnesses as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It may also be observed in individuals with mental health diagnoses that include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or eating disorders. The term "substance abuse" refers to substance use disorders that range along a continuum from abuse to dependence or addiction.

The term "dual diagnosis" is considered to be misleading by some professionals because most people with this diagnosis actually have many problems rather than just two discrete illnesses. Occasionally, the term is used to describe a person with developmental disabilities and/or a mental health disorder or substance abuse disorder. More commonly, dual diagnosis refers to those with severe mental illness and a drug or alcohol abuse disorder, and who receive therapy in the public treatment systems. The prevalence of people with dual diagnoses became fully apparent to clinicians in the early 1980s. Initially, dual diagnoses were thought to be most likely in young adults with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who also had extensive histories of drug or alcohol abuse. There was a widespread belief, often shared by family members of affected patients, that a young person's initiation into illegal drug use actually caused a subsequent mental illness. It is now more commonly thought that symptoms of the mental disorder generally appear first, and that the abuse of drugs or alcohol may represent the patient's attempt to self-medicate and alleviate the troublesome symptoms that accompany mental health disorders.

Today it is clear that the co-occurrence of mental illness and substance abuse is common: about 50% of individuals with severe mental illnesses are affected by substance abuse. A dual diagnosis is also associated with a host of negative outcomes that may include higher rates of relapse, hospitalization, incarceration, violence, homelessness, and exposure to such serious infections as HIV and hepatitis. Despite almost twenty years of evidence regarding the prevalence and serious illnesses of people with dual diagnoses, the United States mental health and substance abuse systems continue to operate on parallel tracks, causing additional confusion to those with concurrent disorders. Refusal to combine services to provide better coordinated treatment has meant unnecessary suffering and expense for thousands of patients and their families.