Dual diagnosis, also known as comorbidity, is a term for when a person experiences both a mental illness and a substance use disorder (SUD) simultaneously. Previous research has shown that individuals in this population are particularly vulnerable to stigmatization, as they may struggle with many aspects of daily living while trying to cope with having two sets of distressing symptoms that may intertwine or exacerbate one another. A 2015 study conducted by a researcher from the UK defined stigma as,

“…a mark or sign of ‘difference’ often leading to being shunned and excluded.”

Homelessness, psychiatric distress, substance use, violence and property crime are just a few unfortunate circumstances for many with dual diagnoses, with many people’s lifestyles, routines, and activities associated with their disorders leading them to these outcomes. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment involved the assessment of 243 treatment-seeking patients with a dual diagnosis. The researchers obtained their demographic information as well as their history with stigmatization and found that many patients experienced stigmatization when they were younger in age and with an overly accommodating interpersonal style. Much of this could be due to the sensed vulnerability that these groups are already stereotyped as, which can add further challenges when a dual diagnosis is involved.

There are three levels that many people with psychiatric disorders face, as emphasized by a 2016 study conducted by researchers from India:

  • Self-stigma – occurs when a person believes the stereotypes that have been perpetuated by society. This can lead to poor self-efficacy, decreased self-esteem, poor disease, outcome, poor quality of life, and much more.  
  • Structural stigma – occurs when institutional policies and practices further perpetuate negative stereotypes of those with a disorder. This could be done by the media, healthcare institutions, etc.
  • Public stigma – occurs when stereotypes turn people against one another by fearing, avoiding, or discriminating against those with psychiatric illnesses.

While this study focused more on psychiatric illnesses, it’s safe to say that those with dual diagnosis experience all these levels to an even greater extent at times due to having 2 or more disorders. If you have a dual diagnosis, it’s important that you speak with a professional at a reputable treatment center that specializes in these disorders specifically so that you can receive the best care possible. Don’t wait any longer to seek the help you need.

Therapy is a primary component of treatment for rehabilitation from a substance use disorder and/or mental health disorder. Attending treatment with certified clinicians and counselors is critical for a full recovery. At one of New Vista Behavioral Health’s treatment providers, you are receiving exceptional care, held to a higher standard. Our programs result in better outcomes, ensuring a better recovery. For information call us today: 888-316-3665.



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