How to Cope with Dual Diagnosis

Coping with any kind of substance addiction or an eating disorder is difficult enough one at a time. But when you have to overcome them together, it becomes a real problem. However, it would be inaccurate to say that this challenge is unique nor is it insurmountable.

People with dual diagnosis have a substance addiction and at the same time have a persistent mental disorder. Dual diagnosis is a fairly new concept. As recent as the 1990s, experts would treat one condition before treating the other or before passing on the patient to another set of experts. It turns out this was dangerous because it had a higher risk for a relapse.  

But it wasn’t long before it was obvious that many people who fall victim to substance abuse are also found to have mental problems and vice versa. And part of the reason for this was pointed out in a study conducted in 2005 by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders. Here it was proven that effects of substances can be indistinguishable from the symptoms of a mental illness.


For example, any abuse of substances can lead to or worsen delirium, dementia, psychosis, and sleep disorder.  As new as it is, ‘dual diagnosis’ is already being replaced or used interchangeably with ‘co-occurring disorders’ as the occurrence of both a substance addiction and a mental health disorder.

It is important to realize that a substance addiction and an eating disorder can exist side by side.

This will result in a simultaneous treatment for the dual diagnosis. Of course, this requires a higher level of expertise as the person in charge of the treatment needs to be knowledgeable in both fields.

Before a reliable treatment can start, there are factors to be put in place that will address your addiction and eating disorder:   

Support System

You cannot do this alone. Treatment for any substance addiction and for an eating disorder is not a chic endeavor done in the name of redemption. Both of these symptoms can exacerbate and lead to further complications or worse.

You need the support of family and close friends. If their time is limited during this admittedly demanding period of your life, there are many support organizations who meet regularly.

Don’t be afraid to attend initial meetings as if you were trying on jeans. They have to fit you. The look and size of the venue, and the distance to get to it. Feel free for it to as near or as far as you feel comfortable with. You have to be able to relate to at least three people in the group, probably including the person in charge.

You have to see yourself not too far off in the future talking to them about your addiction and your eating disorder. It all sounds so trivial, but these are deeply personal matters for you and for the people in the group.

You have to find the group that can support you and that you can support.

Realistic Healing Schedule

Let’s be clear about this. In no way does ‘realistic’ here mean “next summer” or “day after Christmas.” If you’re like other people who suffer from substance addiction and you also have an eating disorder, then you’ve only admitted to your problems because you’ve been backed into a corner. You’ve almost lost your job and your apartment and also severed many relationships.

Thus, your healing process should start right away if you’re going to have a chance to recover at least the important people in your life.

And don’t expect your healing to conform to your personal time frame. It will only add to the anxiety you may already be feeling.

Of course, medication adheres to a schedule. However, completing a round of medication will not ensure that you will get over your craving for your addiction or that your eating concerns will just fade away.  

Learn To Forgive Yourself

One of the main lessons to learn is forgiveness.

As you will have a hard time forgetting the how you embarrassed yourself while you were in the throes of your addiction, try to dial down the self-loathing for the desperate acts you pulled to satisfy your eating disorder. 

Forgive the parents who were not able to provide you with adequate guidance or were not able to care for you in the way you thought you deserved. Forgive the class bullies who may have taught you to hate your body and the adults who turned a blind eye.

Forgive the media personalities and all the other people whom you believed were better than you because you could never ever look the way they did.


And finally, forgive yourself for your mortal weaknesses. Forgive yourself for not getting help sooner. Forgive yourself for not healing as fast as you would like. Forgive yourself for being less than hopeful.   



Never Again

Easier said than done. Many do heal and live better lives after their first fumble. However, it wasn’t that simple. They worked hard to achieve that. Because there is no real tried and formula for healing your addiction or your eating disorder. And whoever says so was probably less than truthful.

You simply have to decide to work hard for yourself. Work for the people who you want back in your life. And work for that life that you want to have.

You have to decide and work to be a better version of yourself.

With all this said, you need professional help from a dual diagnosis treatment center to best treat your dual diagnosis. 

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About the Author: Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is an avid writer who has devoted his life to addiction recovery. He has been sober eight years and his life mission is to spread the word of recovery. When he is not writing or helping others he is camping, playing basketball with his friends or playing the guitar. Jon currently works for as a recovery coach.

Charlotte KurzComment