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What is a Dual Diagnosis or Cooccurring Disorder

When someone is struggling with both a mental illness and an addiction issue they are experiencing what is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Dual diagnoses are more common than people realize. According to the National Institute of Health 7.7 million Americans suffer from a dual diagnosis.

Research has shown prolonged drug use, and even intermittent drug use, can alter the chemistry in the brain. Neurotransmitters, our brains' chemical messengers, such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are notably impacted:

  • Dopamine helps to regulate mood, plays a role in how we feel and seek out pleasure, and is associated with motivation and focus

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with mood stability and emotional regulation

  • Norepinephrine is like adrenaline and helps to speed up the central nervous system in response to fight or flight stressors 

  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) acts as a natural tranquilizer, helping to lower anxiety and stress in the body by slowing down the heart rate and lowering blood pressure


Altering chemical messengers in the body can have a significant impact on someone’s mood or mental health.


On the flip side, many people with existing mental health issues turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate in an effort to make themselves feel better. While individuals may find temporary relief, it is often fleeting and leads to much larger problems. 


In cases where someone is experiencing co-occurring disorders, both conditions must be treated to help the person fully recover.

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