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Dual Diagnosis vs Co-Occurring Disorders. Is There a Difference?

What are a Few of the Most Common Co-occurring Disorders?

The phrase “mental illness” is still viewed negatively in society today and carries with it a heavy stigma. The truth is psychiatric issues are more common than the general public might realize.


The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 1 in four adults over the age of 18 experience a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. That’s 57.7 million people. Even more alarming, it’s estimated that 29 percent of people diagnosed with a mental illness abuse drugs and alcohol.

In some cases, a psychiatric condition comes first, driving a person to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This can unwittingly then lead to a chemical dependency. However, there are likely just as many cases where addiction is the primary problem.

Left untreated, a person living with addiction issues can develop psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety and depression.Whether it’s the chicken or the egg that came first, anyone with a dual diagnosis faces a difficult set of challenges in recovery.

 One of the greatest challenges is getting the right diagnosis. Patients addicted to drugs and alcohol don’t automatically assume that their dependency might stem from psychiatric problems.

On the flip side, a person with an existing mental condition might not recognize they’re self-medicating.This can leave counselors or healthcare professionals in the dark about underlying issues and unable to properly treat them. As a result, recovering from a dual diagnosis is extremely hard unless both illnesses are being addressed.

Those living with a COD are more likely to experience some of the following problems:

  • Chronic relapse
  • Emergency room visits due to physical injury or overdose
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships or family conflicts
  • Stop taking prescribed medication
  • A life of isolation
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Risky behavior such as having unsafe sex or driving while intoxicated
  • An increase in violent or aggressive behavior
  • Incarceration and or legal troubles
  • Difficulties keeping a job or staying in school
  • Homelessness and Addiction changes the brain’s chemistry. This creates even more problems for anyone suffering from a mental condition.
  • They can feel a spike in their symptoms causing them abuse greater amount of alcohol and drugs, further worsening their conditions.

A reputable Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center must break this cycle in order to be successful in the long term.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the most effective dual diagnosis regimen treats both the mental illness and substance issues at the same time.

Treating one problem in isolation, and not both at the same time, could result in decreased success, especially in the long run.Regardless of whether it’s referred to as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis, treatment for anyone suffering this condition should be at a facility that is equipped to treat both addiction and psychiatric illnesses.

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