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The Difference Between Dual Diagnosis & Co-occurring Disorders

Mental health and addiction are closely linked with overlapping contributing factors. Studies suggest that people with mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use disorder than the general population. 

In this article, we’ll talk about dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders, which are terms commonly used to describe these conditions and their role in a person’s addiction recovery. Let’s break it down:

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis occurs when a person is dealing with two conditions at once. It is most frequently used to describe those struggling with psychiatric disorders on top of an addiction problem. It covers a wide range of mental illnesses and addiction types with several potential combinations. The most common ones include:

  • Cocaine addiction + major depression
  • Alcohol addiction + panic disorder
  • Alcoholism + polydrug addiction + schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder + polydrug abuse 

A dual diagnosis treatment may be recommended if a person is found to be suffering from substance use disorder (alcohol or illicit drugs) or any behavioural addiction (i.e. gambling or sex addiction), while dealing with a severe mental illness at the same time.  

Based on the data shown by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, dual diagnosis cases create a ripple effect not only in the lives of the people affected but also in their family and community. 

Check out these fast facts on dual diagnosis: 

  • In 2018, 19.3 percent (or 9.2 million) people with mental illness reportedly experienced a substance use disorder as well. 
  • 1 out of every 8 emergency department visits (an estimated 12 million) is related to a dual diagnosis.

Woman with mental health and addiction disorder

What Is a Co-occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder is a condition wherein a person is diagnosed with multiple illnesses. In the United States and Canada, the terms “co-occurring disorders,” “concurrent disorders,” and “dual diagnosis” are used quite loosely and interchangeably to describe situations where patients have two or more mental health and addiction problems. 

Co-occurring disorders can be classified into five groups:

  1. Substance use disorder + mood and anxiety disorders (depression, panic, anxiety, or bipolar disorder)
  2. Substance use disorder + personality disorder (schizoid, histrionic, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive, and borderline personality disorder)
  3. substance use + severe and persistent mental health disorders (schizophrenia or bipolar disorder)
  4. Substance use disorder + eating disorders (anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa)
  5. Behavioural addiction (compulsive gambling or compulsive sexual behaviours) + mental health problems

Based on studies, at least 20% of Canadians with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use disorder. One of the most vulnerable are people with schizophrenia who have a 50% higher risk. The same is true in the U.S., where approximately 7.9 million people reportedly have co-occurring disorders, affecting people from all walks of life and geographical locations, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Why Does Dual Diagnosis Happen?

The prevalence of co-occurring disorders in our society is undeniable, so much so that clinicians now expect to see a combination of mental health and addiction disorders in most of their patients. 

Researchers suggest a few plausible reasons for their co-occurrence, such as:

They Have Overlapping Genetic Risks

Studies have established that both psychiatric disorders and addiction are hereditary and are primarily due to genetics.

They Have Almost Similar Environmental Triggers

Stress, trauma, early exposure to drugs, and PTSD can influence the development of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse

Mental Illness Increases the Likelihood of Addiction

When you have a mental disorder, your brain is essentially reprogrammed to increase drug dependency or substance abuse vulnerability. As a result, there’s a stronger urge to self-medicate using alcohol or illicit drugs.

Addiction Can Cause or Exacerbate Existing Mental Disorders

Research shows that chronic substance use can alter parts of the brain that are also triggered in those with certain types of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, mood or impulse control disorders. Alcohol, cocaine, LSD, and steroid-based drugs can produce substance-induced anxiety.

Person with a psychiatrist

The First Step to Addiction Recovery

Co-occurring disorders are frequently misdiagnosed because of the complexity of each condition. Hence, it’s critical to seek a qualified addiction recovery home armed with a competent medical team, offering a research-based dual diagnosis treatment. 

Both mental health and addiction issues must be addressed simultaneously through an integrative approach involving psychiatric and addiction treatment techniques. These include a combination of the following:

Medical Drug Detox

This is a medically supervised process that will help the person release addictive substances from the bloodstream while safely managing withdrawal symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

It’s a comprehensive addiction recovery treatment focused on addressing negative emotional and behavioural issues, which may have been caused by an underlying mental disorder and have led to substance use.

Individual, Group, and Family Counselling

Counselling is an essential component of every dual diagnosis treatment plan. It can help patients confront mental health conditions that may be hindering their addiction recovery. When counselling takes on an inclusive treatment approach, bringing into the picture family members, such as parents, siblings, or the spouse, becomes exponentially effective.

Continuing Care 

Individuals with co-occurring disorders require generous and continuous support even after they complete their treatment programs. They need all the help they can get to navigate their everyday lives without falling back into their old ways.

Find Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

A holistic dual diagnosis treatment can successfully prevent relapse, suicide, or self-harm and paves the way to long-term addiction recovery. But the first step begins with the decision to seek treatment. 

If you would like to know more about co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis treatment for you or a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. A member of our team will get back to you shortly. Contact us today!


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