Parents with addicted children are often told their child has a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. They may be wondering what is the difference between the two. Is one more serious than the other?

The simple answer is that they are one and the same. A dual diagnosis is when an individual has a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. A co-occurring disorder is when an individual has two or more disorders simultaneously. These disorders can be substance abuse, mental illness, or both. It is important to note that either term can be used interchangeably.

What Causes Dual Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorders?

There are many risk factors that can contribute to developing dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Some of these include:


If addiction or mental illness runs in your family, you are more likely to develop either or both of these disorders. Unfortunately, this is out of your control. However, knowledge is power. If you are aware of a history of addiction or mental illness in your family, you can be on the lookout for any early signs so you can get help before it’s too late.

Brain chemistry

Mental illness and addiction both involve changes in brain chemistry. This means that if you have a mental illness, you may be more susceptible to developing an addiction because of how your brain processes substances. Likewise, if you have an addiction, you may be more likely to develop a mental illness because of how substances affect your brain chemistry.


Another cause of dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders is the environment. This could mean things like exposure to trauma, abuse, or neglect. It could also mean growing up in a household where drug use was prevalent. Studies show that environment plays a big role in addiction and mental illness, so it’s no surprise that they often go hand-in-hand.

Signs and Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorders

The signs and symptoms of dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders will vary depending on the specific combination of disorders present.

However, some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Changes in mood or behavior: This could include withdrawal from friends and activities, sudden changes in mood or behavior, irritability, anger, isolation, etc.
  • Substance abuse: Changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, appearance, activity level, work performance, etc.
  • Legal problems: Getting arrested for DUI/DWI, public intoxication, theft, assault charges related to drug use or alcohol abuse, etc.
  • Changes in thinking: Poor judgment, decision-making abilities, paranoia, delusions, auditory hallucinations, etc.

If you notice any changes in yourself or your child that are cause for concern, it’s important to seek help right away. The sooner you get help, the better the chances are for recovery.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis occurs when an individual has a mental illness as well as a substance abuse disorder, while a co-occurring disorder occurs when an individual has two or more disorders at the same time (substance abuse disorder, mental illness, or both ).

They are often used interchangeably because they refer to the same thing. It’s important to note that dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders require specialized dual diagnosis treatment because traditional treatment methods aren’t always effective. If you think you or your child may have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. With proper treatment, recovery is possible.