What is a dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is the term to describe those suffering from a mental health condition (such as schizophrenia, personality disorders and bipolar disorders); as well as having a substance misuse problem. Dual diagnosis can also be referred to as ‘co-occurring or ‘comorbid’ disorders or conditions. It is a complex link, that can exist for a number of reasons and change over time.

Commonly, drugs and/or alcohol can sometimes be used to self-medicate the symptoms of a pre-existing mental health illness. This in turn can result in a substance misuse problem. Drugs and alcohol use can also lead to, worsen or trigger new or existing mental health conditions and episodes.

People with a dual diagnosis may have:

  • A mental illness that has led to substance misuse 
  • A substance abuse problem that has led to a mental illness (for example, psychosis)
  • Two initially unrelated disorders interact with and exacerbate each other

Signs and symptoms of a dual diagnosis

You may have a dual diagnosis problem if:

  • Drugs or alcohol are used to overcome feelings of anxiety, stress or depression
  • Substances are used to cope with symptoms of a pre-existing mental health condition (common ones include depression, anxiety, ADHD, panic disorders, PTSD and more)
  • You have a family history of mental health problems

Common symptoms of a dual diagnosis might include:

  • Social isolation
  • Weight changes
  • Change in sleep pattern
  • Increased aggression, irritability and reckless behaviour 
  • Trouble maintaining relationships
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Using substances to cope with unpleasant or difficult feelings

Treatment for dual diagnosis at Nightingale Hospital

Our approach to treating dual diagnosis at Nightingale Hospital London combines individualised programmes that are based on current clinical evidence. You may attend as an outpatient, day patient or inpatient.


We treat these connected problems in parallel using a combination of therapies depending on your individual needs such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) or Psychotherapy and Counselling.

We consider biological, psychological and social factors in our dual diagnosis treatment programmes. If detoxification from a chemical or substance is required we have experts in this field to carry out specialist detoxification as the first stage of treatment.


Medication can be used to help symptoms and support dual diagnosis treatment such as stabilise mood or reduce feelings of depression and anxiety or psychotic symptoms if present.

Alternative approaches

Through therapy and alternative approaches such as meditation, mindfulness, art therapy, sleep therapy, nutrition and physical therapies we aim to give you the knowledge and coping skills for the future.

Family support groups for inpatients

Those nearest to the sufferer often blame themselves, going through a range of emotions from despair, depression and guilt to anger and frustration, leaving them exhausted and having difficulty coping, as well as feeling powerless in how to deal with the situation.

Research has shown that the involvement of families in the treatment process greatly increases the prospects of a person’s recovery.

Addiction monthly free family day for inpatients

Our addictions family day takes place once a month and is led by an addictions and family specialist therapist. It consists of two groups.

One group is for family and partners only. It will offer them education in not only how to deal with the addicted person, but also how to safeguard themselves in this difficult situation. This can allow you to help your loved one in a healthy way while still being able to lead your own life.

The other group is to bring together the families and partners and the addicted person. It gives the addicted person the opportunity to learn how their addiction has affected family members and partners. It gives a forum for them both to express their thoughts and feelings.

Addiction weekly family free support group for inpatients

Family support groups are aimed at families, partners and friends of people suffering from an addiction problem. When these problems arise, it can have a devastating effect on those who are close to the person. Our family support groups can be a huge source of emotional support.


Avoiding relapse is the greatest challenge so we offer to step down programmes, individual counselling and free aftercare to sustain motivation against addiction.

Useful resources


“When you have a problem and you drink, take drugs or gamble, the problem won’t go away. Stay and tackle the problem”