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A dual diagnosis is made when an individual has a combination of a mental disorder like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, and addiction. A dual diagnosis of addiction with a depressive disorder is the most common form of the problem. The symptoms of one disorder can feed into the other disorder making it worse; depression may lead to using alcohol or other substances to self-medicate and then lead to addiction.

Depression as a Gateway to Addiction

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder also have an anxiety or mood disorder.”

For individuals suffering from untreated clinical depression alcohol and drugs can seem like the only way to escape the overwhelming feelings of pain and emptiness associated with the disorder. Dualdiagnosis.org states, “It’s easy to see why. Those who experience feelings of depression take alcohol and drugs in order to escape their negative emotions. But those who are clinically depressed are going to stay depressed if they do not seek treatment. And if these individuals are using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, chances are their usage will soon turn into full-blown addiction as they continue in a vain attempt to self-medicate.”


A dual diagnosis adds a level of complexity to treatment. Each aspect of the diagnosis, the psychiatric issues and the addiction, must both be identified and treated. Just treating the substance abuse issues will not eliminate depression, so it is vital that both are treated together in order to lessen the chance of relapse. Therapy and medication are two important tools in treating dual diagnosis. And while medication is often an important part of treatment, doctors treating individuals who also suffer from substance abuse issues can prescribe medications with low potential for abuse.

Dual diagnosis can seem like a difficult obstacle to overcome, but depression and addiction are both treatable illnesses. By treating both the addiction and the underlying mental and emotional issues, the chances for a full and lasting recovery are greatly improved and those suffering from a dual diagnosis can look forward to a healthy life.

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