Patient, Family & Staff Safety is our Priority: COVID-19 

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

Last Updated on December 16, 2019 by Inspire Malibu

This isn’t a riddle, so let’s be clear right from the start. There is no difference between a dual diagnosis and a co-occurring disorder (COD). They are two different terms for the same condition.

Instead of comparing apples and oranges, it’s more like comparing apples and apples. Whatever term you prefer, this condition occurs when a person is suffering from both a chemical dependency and a mental illness.

Dual Diagnosis vs Co-occurring Disorders

What are Some 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.

How Common are Mental Health Issues?

The National Institute of Mental Health Disorders 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.

What are the Issues Faced by a Dual Diagnosis?

Those living with a dual diagnosis are more likely to experience some of the following issues:

  • 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

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.


What if You Knew Depression as Both a Doctor and as a Patient?

Diet and Depression? The Brain-Gut Connection to Mental Health

10 Must-Read Books About Mental Health


Skip to content