Just as the field of treatment for substance use and mental disorders has evolved to become more precise, so too has the terminology used to describe people with both substance use and mental disorders. The term co-occurring disorders replaces the terms dual disorder or dual diagnosis. These latter terms, though used commonly to refer to the combination of substance use and mental disorders, are confusing in that they also refer to other combinations of disorders (such as mental disorders and mental retardation).
Furthermore, the terms suggest that there are only two disorders occurring at the same time, when in fact there may be more. Clients with co-occurring disorders (COD) have one or more disorders relating to the use of alcohol and/or other drugs of abuse as well as one or more mental disorders. A diagnosis of co-occurring disorders occurs when at least one disorder of each type can be established independent of the other and is not simply a cluster of symptoms resulting from the one disorder.
The symptoms of co-occurring disorder include those associated with substance abuse along with those of psychiatric disorders mentioned previously.
Substance abuse is a maladaptive pattern of substance use manifested by recurrent and significant adverse consequences related to the repeated use of substances. Individuals who abuse substances may experience such harmful consequences of substance use as repeated failure to fulfill roles for which they are responsible, legal difficulties, or social and interpersonal problems. It is important to note that the chronic use of an illicit drug still constitutes a significant issue for treatment even when it does not meet the criteria for substance abuse.
For individuals with more severe or disabling mental disorders, as well as for those with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries, even the threshold of substance use that might be harmful (and therefore defined as abuse) may be significantly lower than for individuals without such disorders. Furthermore, the more severe the disability, the lower the amount of substance use that might be harmful.
The common wisdom among mental health and medical professionals is that both disorders are biologically based and related to the brain. Sometimes the mental problem occurs first. This can lead people to use alcohol or drugs that make them feel better temporarily. Sometimes the substance abuse occurs first. Over time, that can lead to emotional and mental problems.
Mental disorders and addiction are each a dynamic process, with fluctuations in severity, rate of progression, and symptom manifestation and with differences in the speed of onset. Both disorders are greatly influenced by several factors, including genetic susceptibility, environment, and pharmacologic influences. Certain people have a high risk for these disorders (genetic risk); some situations can evoke or help to sustain these disorders (environmental risk); and some drugs are more likely than others to cause psychiatric or substance use disorder problems (pharmacologic risk).
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