Co-occurring disorders, formerly referred to as dual diagnosis, are the presence of at least one mental health disorder and at least one substance use disorder that occurs at the same time. Often, an individual will enter treatment for a substance use disorder and will later be diagnosed with an underlying mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
Substance use disorders such as alcohol use disorder or opioid use disorder are often used as an unhealthy coping mechanism to alleviate symptoms associated with underlying depression or anxiety. On the other hand, when an individual develops a substance use disorder, their brain chemistry changes, making them more prone to the development of a mental health disorder.
The term “dual-diagnosis” is an outdated term and has been replaced by the term “co-occurring disorder” since individuals may have more than two disorders present simultaneously. The mental health and substance use disorder community believes that “dual,” which refers to two, is an inaccurate description as more than two disorders can co-occur.
Co-Occurring Disorder Statistics
According to the National Institue on Drug Abuse:
- Seven million adults have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
- Among the 423 million adults with a mental health disorder, 18.2% of them also had a substance use disorder.
- Among the 20.3 million adults who have a substance use disorder, 37.9% of them have a mental health disorder.
- Nine percent of individuals with a co-occurring disorder received treatment for both their mental health disorder and substance use disorder.
- Nine percent of individuals with a co-occurring disorder received treatment only for their substance use disorder.
- Five percent of individuals with a co-occurring disorder received treatment only for a mental health disorder.
Treatment for co-occurring disorders is the same as treating a substance use disorder or mental health disorder; however, all of the present disorders must be treated at the same time in the same treatment facility. If one disorder is left undiagnosed or untreated, then it increases the likelihood of relapse as the untreated disorder can be an underlying trigger that can give way to urges, cravings or unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.