Treatment navigators are ready to guide you. Take the first step and call:


Alcohol and Dual Diagnosis

Alcoholism that occurs alongside mental illness is a very serious condition known as dual diagnosis. Learn more about this condition and how to treat it.

Take the first step toward recovery:

Alcoholism and Dual Diagnosis

Table of Contents

Related Information
Questions about treatment?
Get 24/7 confidential help now:
We accept most insurances

Alcoholism and Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is one of the most common complications of alcohol use disorder.

It is possible to suffer from alcoholism with any type of mental illness. However, the most common mental illnesses found in people suffering from alcoholism include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What Is Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is when a patient has one or more mental illnesses in addition to their addiction.
Other terms commonly used include co-occurring disorders, comorbidity, and co-morbid disorders.
Alcoholics are much more likely to have a mental health condition than non-alcoholics.
Similarly, a person with a mental health disorder is much more likely to become an alcoholic than someone without any form of mental illness.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 45% of Americans suffer from dual diagnoses. Among this demographic, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance.

There is a very strong link between alcohol use and mental health. Many people with mental health issues use alcohol as a way to escape or self-medicate.
Many forms of mental illness make it more difficult for the individual to control or stop drinking. This inability to control the quantities and frequency of drinking increases the likelihood of the individual developing alcohol use disorder, and other dangerous drinking behaviors like binge drinking.
Alcohol use actually exacerbates the symptoms of many mental illnesses. It can also make mental health conditions occur prematurely and more frequently, and for extended periods of time.
Even in the not so distant past, mental illness and alcoholism were rarely treated concurrently. It was common for mental health professionals to insist that patients stop drinking before they could receive mental illness treatment.
In those days, the interactions of alcohol use and mental illness were not well known. It was thought that the conditions needed to be treated separately. Fortunately, it is now common practice to treat both conditions simultaneously to ensure the greatest chance of success.

Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis

Although every mental health condition has different symptoms, there are some that are common in many.
Here are some common warning signs that an individual may be suffering from a dual diagnosis:
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Weight gain or loss, increased or decreased appetite
  • Low energy and listlessness, no motivation to do anything
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased performance at work and in personal life
  • Anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and aggression
  • Making excuses for alcohol use 

Common Mental Disorders Co-Occurring with Alcoholism

Alcoholism can affect people with any mental illness. However, people with certain mental health conditions are far more likely to suffer from alcoholism than others,, and vice versa.
Some of the most common mental disorders that occur alongside alcoholism include:


Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, and is also the condition most found occurring alongside alcoholism. People with depression often turn to alcohol to help alleviate the worst symptoms of depression.

Some of the more severe symptoms of depression include hopelessness, loneliness, sadness, and suicidal thoughts. Self-soothing and self-medicating with alcohol actually worsens the symptoms of depression.


Roughly 18% of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder. Alcohol appeals to anxiety sufferers because it seems to help relax them and distract them from worrying thoughts. People with social anxiety may turn to alcohol to give them confidence in social situations.

However, alcohol actually worsens the symptoms of anxiety over time. This is especially so when decisions made under the influence of alcohol put the individual in a stressful situation.

Bipolar Disorder

Alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder often go hand-in-hand. Some studies have shown that most bipolar disorder sufferers will develop an addiction at some point in their lives. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in these demographics. 

People with bipolar may use alcohol at any point in their cycling, whether during a depressive or manic phase. Alcohol abuse is dangerous at any point in their cycle, but is particularly dangerous during manic phases. The individual, when fuelled by alcohol and mania, may put themselves in very dangerous situations and will behave recklessly.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Around 25% of people with OCD also suffer from alcohol use disorder. OCD sufferers enjoy alcohol because it distracts them from their symptoms. As with many mental health conditions, alcohol actually makes the symptoms of OCD worse. 

This can quickly lead to addiction, as worsening symptoms will lead to more excessive alcohol consumption.

Impact of Dual Diagnosis on Treatment

Any dual diagnosis condition makes alcohol addiction treatment more difficult. In the same vein, the presence of alcohol use disorder makes the mental illness treatment more difficult. 

This is because the symptoms of alcoholism and many mental illnesses are so similar, so it is often very difficult to properly diagnose a patient until they have stopped drinking.
It is even more difficult when an individual suffers from multiple mental illnesses. Without proper diagnosis of the mental health condition or conditions, successful treatment is unlikely.
The treatment itself is also more difficult. To improve the chance of success, both the mental health condition and alcohol use disorder should be treated simultaneously. Doing so will help reduce the symptoms of both conditions.
The less the person drinks, or if they abstain entirely, the less severe and frequent the symptoms of their mental illness will be, and the less they will feel the need to drink to escape them.
However, this requires specialized treatment facilitated by both addiction and mental health experts. Only recently have rehab facilities become able to provide treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Dual diagnosis can make alcohol addiction recovery more challenging, especially those that have never dealt with their mental illness properly.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options

The good news is that most people with a dual diagnosis can successfully recover with proper inpatient rehab treatment.
There are many therapy options for treating mental illness co-occurring and alcoholism.
Some of the most common include:
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Faith-based treatment
  • Holistic therapy
  • Motivational enhancement therapy


Get Help For Alcoholism Co-Occurring with Mental Illness

Although very serious, dual diagnosis is treatable. The combination of alcohol use disorder and mental illness can have a severe impact on the sufferer’s life, and that of the people around them.
If you or a loved one are battling alcohol addiction, we are here to help. Contact us today so that one of our compassionate treatment navigators can help you on the road to recovery.

Get Help Today

Don’t go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you’re facing. Get in touch with one today:


Get a Call

Enter your phone number below to request a call from a Treatment Navigator: