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Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders

Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders. The terms “dual diagnosis” and “co-occurring disorders” are often used interchangeably. While the two terms are similar in many cases, key differences between them are important to understand when creating effective recovery plans. For those suffering from mental health disorders, addiction, or other health concerns, properly understanding and communicating one’s situation is essential for taking steps toward progress and recovery.

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis girl

Dual diagnosis, also sometimes called “comorbidity,” is a term used to refer to any two different diseases or disorders that are affecting an individual at the same time. These diagnoses can be anything and aren’t limited to any one kind of diagnosis. For example, those who have diabetes and high blood pressure can be classified as having dual diagnoses, as they are suffering from both of these things at the same time. However, dual diagnosis can also be used to describe diseases of any kind, from internal organ issues to mental health disorders.

Those who suffer from dual diagnoses often have complicated recovery paths ahead of them, as they have to juggle the symptoms of multiple diagnoses at the same time. However, comorbidity may also occur as a person seems to overcome one disease only for another to emerge as a result. These sequential diagnoses are often still linked with each other in some way.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders, or co-diagnosis, are a more specific subcategory of dual diagnosis that refers to an individual who suffers from a substance use disorder or addiction and a mental health disorder. For some, this can mean they have developed a mental health disorder due to their use of drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances or practices. However, others will develop co-occurring disorders as they attempt to self-medicate their anxieties, depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health concerns with addictive substances.

Regardless of if mental health begets the use of addictive substances or the other way around, co-occurring disorders require an individual to address both their mental health and self-medication practices simultaneously to move towards a sustained healing practice.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Family therapy

Co-occurring disorders can look different to each person, as an individual will have their own unique relationship with an addictive substance and their unique mental state. However, some symptoms of co-occurring disorders are:

  1. Addiction

  2. Inability to focus

  3. Anxiety

  4. Depression

  5. Isolation

  6. Difficulty maintaining employment

  7. Financial complications

  8. Difficulty in relationships

  9. Mood swings

  10. Irrational emotional responses

Left unaddressed, further mood and personality disorders can continue to develop and may leave an individual feeling “trapped” in their own cycle of self-destruction.

However, co-occurring disorders can also refer to physical diagnoses that come from one’s use of drugs or alcohol, such as liver disease, HIV, cancer, or anything else that can be tied to or affected by one’s use of an addictive substance.

What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis comes down to the nature of the diagnosis. Co-occurring disorders are specifically tied to the use of an addictive substance, such as cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or methamphetamines, and the effect that these substances have on one’s mental health. However, dual diagnosis can be used to refer to any two diseases afflicting a person in tandem, regardless of their nature. While all co-occurring disorders can also be referred to as dual diagnoses, not all dual diagnoses will necessarily be classified as co-occurring disorders, even if the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Taking the First Step Toward Treatment


Treating either co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses can be a difficult task. Commonly, an individual will not realize there are multiple different sources of symptoms at first and instead conclude that they are suffering from one diagnosis. Identifying the different symptoms and working with professionals to determine the nature of one’s diagnosis is paramount, commonly beginning with primary care physicians or intake questionnaires from mental health and addiction counseling professionals.

However, addressing these diagnoses needs to be done in a holistic manner — meaning all of them must be addressed simultaneously. For those suffering from co-occurring disorders, addressing one’s mental health component without touching on their use of an addictive substance can leave many gaps in their resulting coping strategies. Likewise, addressing one’s use of an addictive substance without acknowledging the underlying mental health concerns that may have caused one to turn to these substances in the first place can commonly and quickly lead to relapse.

Determining the nature of your diagnosis is paramount for then building an appropriate recovery plan, filled with personalized approaches based on your interests, responses to particular therapies, and any specific advice provided by trained professionals who are familiar with all of the diagnoses that you are suffering from.


Dealing with any diseases or disorders will always present a challenge, and coping with more than one further complicates the situation. However, understanding the difference between Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders can help you begin to understand your situation better and create a more specialized recovery plan based on your unique needs and goals throughout the recovery process. If your or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, as well as the mental health disorders that may be associated with their use, Chateau Recovery can help you take the first step towards addressing these co-occurring disorders today. We offer an array of therapeutic practices, and your time with us can be customized to help you find your own best practices, all while finding comfort in our beautiful campus and supportive atmosphere of colleagues and professionals. For more information on how we can help you, or to speak to a trained, caring staff member about your unique situation, call us today at (435) 222-5225.

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