Although a dual diagnosis doesn’t necessarily include a substance use disorder, Calmann says that 50% of people with a mental health disorder will also experience a substance use disorder. Someone might develop a substance use disorder first, while others might use substances to handle their mental health symptoms. “For example, someone with social anxiety disorder might become dependent on alcohol because they find that drinking helps relieve their anxiety when they are in social groups,” she said. “When they are drinking, they can talk to friends more easily, or attend events that they would have otherwise avoided.” Calmann adds that using substances can make mental illness worse even if the substance provides temporary relief of their symptoms.
Calmann stresses the need for an integrative approach in rehabilitation facilities for substance use disorders in light of dual diagnoses. “There are often subtleties within the interplay that can occur between disorders,” she said. “If you only treat one disorder, there may be little or no improvement in one or both disorders, as it’s possible that the disorders are linked in some way.” She says that more programs are recognizing how important it is to treat both conditions.