Dual diagnosis is the term used when a person lives with a mental health condition—such as depression or bipolar disorder—and struggles with alcohol or drug use. Mood disorders and substance use disorders are both treatable. These conditions are not moral weaknesses or character flaws. They can affect anyone regardless of age, ethnicity, or economic background. Studies have shown that more than half of the people who live with depression or bipolar disorder also use alcohol and/or drugs.
Sometimes people may use alcohol or drugs to cope with mood disorder symptoms. For example, if a person’s mind is racing because of mania, drinking alcohol may feel like it slows the mind down. If a person has intense sadness or hopelessness because of depression, a drug may temporarily seem to numb the feeling of sadness for a period of time. Self-medication may appear to help, but after the temporary effects of the alcohol or drugs wear off, a person’s symptoms are often worse than ever. In fact, self-medication can cause a person’s mood disorder to stay undiagnosed for a long time.