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Co-Occurring Disorders

A co-occurring disorder, formerly known as dual diagnosis, is the co-existence of one or more mental health disorders alongside substance use disorders.

The term “dual” in dual diagnosis refers to the two co-occurring disorders, but often individuals may have more than two substance use or mental health disorders simultaneously.

Because of this, the term “dual diagnosis” was changed to “co-occurring.”


Signs & Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

The signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders vary depending upon the specific mental health disorder and drug of choice.

For example, if an individual is struggling with marijuana abuse and schizophrenia, the signs and symptoms of these disorders will be drastically different than those of an individual who is struggling with a cocaine addiction and bipolar disorder.

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In general, individuals who are living with co-occurring disorders find functioning on a day-to-day basis to be significantly difficult, if not impossible. Many will struggle with the following:

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Treatment for co-occurring disorders aims at treating both the mental health disorder, and the substance use disorder with an integrative approach, including:

The following are psychotherapy approaches used to treat co-occurring disorders:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

    A therapy that concentrates on patterns of abnormal thinking and distorted beliefs that are the underlying causes for irrational emotions and thought patterns. The key concept of CBT is the idea that thoughts and feelings are directly related to behavior. Therefore, by gaining control of one’s thoughts and emotions, one can better dictate their behavior.

  • Dialectal behavioral therapy

    A type of psychotherapy that combines parts of cognitive behavioral therapy with principles of mindfulness. Traditional dialectal behavior therapy focuses on concrete behavioral skills for four domains: emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness.

  • Interpersonal therapy

    Interpersonal therapy focuses on relationships and social skills that may be contributing to psychological problems such as depression, or substance use disorders. Interpersonal psychotherapy works to help individuals identify emotions and where they are coming from, allowing the individual to express emotions in a healthy manner, and deal with emotional baggage.

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