Morningside Recovery's Dr. Waterman Talks Dual Diagnosis Treatment Basics

Anxiety, along with other mental illnesses, is often experienced in conjunction with other disorders. This can make it complicated to understand the causes and nature of the difficulties an individual is having. "Dual diagnosis treatment" is a solution to this and is frequently offered by recovery centers, but many individuals may not know what it means for them or their loved ones considering treatment. Morningside Recovery’s Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, Psy.D., answers common questions about dual diagnosis treatment, including what it is, how it works, and more.

Give me a basic introduction to dual disorders: What are they? Are they common?

Dual disorder refers to a co-occurring substance abuse or dependence disorder and a mental illness. For example, a client with opiate dependence and major depressive disorder would be considered as having dual disorders. Dual disorders are common in clients with a substance dependence or abuse problem.

What kinds of emotional or mental symptoms are seen in individuals with dual diagnosis?

Clients can have any mental illness coupled with a substance abuse or dependence problem. Frequently seen emotional disorders with co-morbid chemical dependency include major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar I or II disorder.

Does substance abuse or the mental problem usually develop first? How can you tell?

Either problem can occur first. We see clients who first experienced a mood disorder, such as depression, and began self-medicating with substances, which then results in a substance use disorder. We also see the opposite in which a client begins using substances recreationally but the use escalates into a substance use disorder. As a result of the substance abuse, a secondary mood disorder, like depression, can develop.

How does dual diagnosis treatment work?

Dual diagnosis treatment at Morningside Recovery involves treating substance use disorders and mental disorders at the same time. The program is designed to allow patients to participate in group therapy sessions that address substance abuse issues and other sessions that focus on mental illness in the same day. Individuals will also meet with therapists one-on-one for counseling in both areas of concern.

What is the role of the patient’s family while they are in dual diagnosis treatment and as they transition out of treatment?

I involve the family in a client’s treatment whenever possible, unless it would cause harm to the client. Families are very influential factors in helping an individual recover from mental illness and chemical dependency. Morningside provides family therapy and weekend workshops for families of clients where they learn to develop healthy boundaries, effective communication skills, and self care among other skills.

What qualities should someone look for in a dual diagnosis treatment program?

People seeking a dual diagnosis treatment program should focus on those that tailor the experience to the individual client’s needs. Using a variety of treatment techniques to address each problem the person is struggling with will give the best possible outcome. Programs that use a more "cookie cutter" approach, in which they try to fit clients with various issues into a predetermined program, is less effective.

If I know someone who appears to have a substance abuse problem or symptoms of a mental disorder, what should I do?

First, try expressing your concerns openly to the person. Sometimes, people with dual disorders have difficulty seeing or accepting that they have a problem with substances and/or mental illness. If the person is open to the discussion, gently suggest that they seek professional assessment for their issues. It is always helpful to communicate that you care and are looking out for the person’s best interest. Try to challenge any myths about mental health or addiction treatment and offer support for the person through this process. Sometimes, talking to other people that love and care for the person can be helpful in determining the best way to address the issue with the individual.

Morningside Recovery is a world-class treatment center dedicated to providing the highest quality of care to those suffering from mental illness, chemical dependency, or co-occurring disorders. To learn more about Morningside or treatment options, visit

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