Can someone who has a mental illness also have a substance abuse problem?

Yes, many people who suffer from mental illness have substance abuse problems. This is most often referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring problem, which is very common. Using alcohol or drugs may relieve or mask some of the symptoms of mental illness and the individual can become addicted. On the other hand, someone who abuses substances may present with symptoms of mental illness. In dual diagnosis treatment programs, it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction about the diagnosis. The only way to differentiate is to stop using substances altogether. Only then can a licensed mental health practitioner or psychiatrist obtain a clearer picture and diagnose appropriately. However, because both issues often occur together, they are best both treated simultaneously.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine


When someone has a diagnosed mental health problem they may still be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. When both are present that is called Dual Diagnosis.

Someone who has a mental illness can also have a substance abuse problem, and  that condition is called dual diagnosis. A person with dual diagnosis may experience mood swings, extreme anger, sadness for long periods of time or start talking about suicide. If this sounds like you or someone you know, seek help.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.