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Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders

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Dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders describe similar circumstances, but they are not identical terms. When you are seeking professional treatment for yourself or someone that you care about, knowing the difference between dual diagnosis vs. co-occurring disorders can help you find the provider that best meets your needs, or those of your loved one.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

The term co-occurring disorders refers to the simultaneous presence of two mental health concerns. Some mental health professionals use the term comorbid disorders to describe this occurrence.

Co-occurring disorders are far from uncommon. However, many people don’t realize that they have been struggling with more than one mental health condition until they enter treatment. Here are just a few examples of common co-occurring disorders:

Undiagnosed co-occurring disorders can be sources of considerable distress. But when a person receives an accurate diagnosis that addresses the full scope of their mental health needs, this can be an important step toward proper treatment and improved health.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis refers to the simultaneous presence of a mental health concern and a substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction). In a sense, dual diagnosis is a special category of co-occurring disorders.

Many people who become dependent on alcohol, opioids, or other substances have histories of untreated trauma or other mental health conditions. 

The cause-effect relationship between addictions and mental illnesses can be bidirectional. This means that, in some cases, struggles with mental illnesses cause people to abuse alcohol or other drugs, which transforms from an unhealthy coping mechanism into an addiction. In other cases, the devastation of active addiction can cause a person to develop a mental health disorder.

As is the case with those who have co-occurring mental health concerns, dual diagnosis patients need comprehensive treatment that identifies and addresses the full scope of their needs. Failing to do this – such as trying to treat a person’s alcoholism without providing care for their depression – can significantly undermine the individual’s ability to maintain improved health

Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders

Now that we have discussed these mental health terms individually, let’s turn our attention to the similarities and differences between dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders.

The following are examples of similarities between dual diagnosis vs. co-occurring disorders:

  • Both dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders include more than one health concern.
  • Dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders both involve mental illnesses.
  • People who have either co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis need comprehensive treatment.
  • The cause-effect relationship between two mental illnesses (co-occurring disorders) or addiction and a mental illness (dual diagnosis) can be difficult to determine.
  • Many people who have been living with dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders don’t realize the scope of their health challenges until they complete an assessment or begin treatment.
  • With appropriate treatment, people who have either dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders can achieve improved health.

The primary difference between dual diagnosis vs. co-occurring disorders is that dual diagnosis involves addiction, while co-occurring disorders do not. 

As a result of this primary difference, a person who has co-occurring disorders may be treated at a facility that only offers mental health care – but a person with dual diagnosis must get help from a center that can provide both mental health support and addiction treatment services. 

Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorders

Dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders may both be treated with a combination of medication, education, and therapy.

Medication can eliminate drug cravings, alleviate the distress of withdrawal, and ease various mental health symptoms. Therapy and education can serve many purposes, including helping patients accomplish the following:

  • Identifying their triggers, or situations that can push them back into substance abuse or prompt the recurrence of mental health symptoms
  • Developing better stress management and conflict resolution skills
  • Replacing self-destructive thought and behavior patterns with healthier ways of thinking and acting
  • Learning how to repair or rebuild relationships that were negatively impacted by addiction and/or mental illnesses
  • Discovering the many benefits of sharing support with others who are working toward similar objectives

Depending on the severity of their addiction, some dual diagnosis patients need to complete a detoxification program prior to fully engaging in therapy. 

Following detox – or for those who don’t need this service – many people who have dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders receive care at the partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and/or outpatient levels.

Some patients only spend time at one of these levels, while others benefit from time at two or all three. There is no single ideal treatment path for people who have dual diagnosis or co-occurring mental health disorders. What’s most important is determining which types and levels of care best suit the unique needs of each patient.

Find Treatment for Dual Diagnosis or Co-Occurring Disorders in Atlanta

If you have been seeking professional help for dual diagnosis or co-occurring mental health concerns, Peachtree Recovery Solutions may be the ideal place for you. 

Our center in Atlanta, Georgia, offers customized outpatient care for adults whose lives have been impacted by substance abuse, addiction, and mental illness. With the help of our dedicated treatment professionals, you can make sustained progress toward improved health and a more hopeful future.

To learn more about our programs and services, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call our center today.