On the surface, addiction may seem like a preventable condition that stems from a lack of willpower and persists because of an individual’s susceptibility to instant gratification. However, addiction is a physical illness, and it usually has roots in other mental disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.

According to DualDiagnosis.org, about 8 percent of the adult population in the United States (17.5 million people) suffer from a serious mental health issue, and of those, 4 million people are also struggling with addiction. Dual diagnosis aims to treat both addiction and any underlying mental health disorders simultaneously and separately, making relapse less common and recovery fuller.

Why Dual Diagnosis Matters

American Addiction Centers offer a unique dual diagnosis curriculum, intended to help patients both cope and recover from their physical addiction, while undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce the effects of their mental health condition.

If only addiction is treated, and disorders like depression or bipolar disorder continue to persist, it’s easy for a patient to relapse once their treatment plan has stopped—that’s why many dual diagnosis programs last 90 days instead of the typical 30 days for addiction recovery.

Dual diagnosis also finds new ways to help people who are otherwise difficult to treat. If a person is experiencing symptoms of a serious mental health disorder alongside addiction or withdrawal, yet only the addiction/withdrawal symptoms are being treated, they may never make a full recovery.

Coping With Dual Diagnosis

If you or a loved one are coping with addiction recovery alongside a significant mental illness, there are a few strategies you’ll need to use to improve your chances of making it through the process:

1. Be prepared for a lengthy recovery.

Addiction recovery is already a long, complicated, and difficult process. Adding another layer with mental health treatment will make it even more so. If you begin recovery with the mindset that you’ll be better after a couple weeks of treatment, you’ll become disillusioned and discouraged when that doesn’t turn out to be the case.

Instead, prepare for a several-months-long battle, with lots of ups and downs, and understand that most mental health disorders aren’t “cured”—instead, they’re coped with and dealt with over the course of a lifetime. You need to remain patient and accepting of the process, especially at its most difficult.

2. The combinations are infinite.

Depression affects more than 15 million American adults, making it one of the most common mental health disorders, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only health condition that can encourage and complicate the development of addiction. The combinations of mental conditions, addiction conditions, and accordingly, paths to recovery, are practically infinite. That means what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you, and you’ll need to experiment with various treatments and approaches before you find something that works.

3. Create a support system.

Trying to deal with dual diagnosis alone will make everything more challenging than it already is. Find a support system that can help you through the process; this can include your friends, family members, coworkers, acquaintances, or other groups of people you encounter along your journey to recovery. Be honest about what you’re going through and educate them about your diagnosis. They’ll care, helping you through some of the most difficult parts of the process.

4. Not every recovery center is equipped for dual diagnosis.

There are many addiction treatment facilities in the United States, but the majority of them are exclusively dedicated to helping people recover from the physical and mental symptoms of addiction—and addiction alone. Only some addiction centers have the staff and resources necessary to identify underlying mental health disorders and treat dual diagnosis patients effectively. Do your research before you sign up for a program, choosing a location that has the resources you need to recover fully. This is different for everybody.

Dual diagnosis has already helped millions of people recover from addiction, despite their simultaneous struggles with mental health disorders. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy or straightforward, but knowing what to expect and committing to the process can improve your chances at winning the battle.