What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are also referred to as dual disorders or dual diagnosis. It describes having at least two disorders simultaneously; for instance, a person who has a substance abuse problem, as well as a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder.

The term ‘co-occurring disorders’ has replaced dual diagnosis and dual disorder because the last two refer to a combination of only two disorders, when usually there are more than two disorders occurring at the same time. Patients who have COD (co-occurring disorders) may have alcohol or drug abuse disorders in addition to mental disorders.

How Is Such a Diagnosis Reached?

This diagnosis is reached when at least one disorder of a different form can be detected independently of another, hence, the term ‘co-occurring disorders.’ The disorders have to be established alone and not be a cluster of signs, which result from just one disorder.

People who have co-occurring disorders are usually called, Mentally Ill Chemical Abusers-MICA. The MICA acronym, though used, has a preferred term of mentally ill chemically affected people. Other acronyms used include ICOPSD (individuals with co-occurring psychiatric and substance disorders), MICD (mentally ill chemically dependent), MISU (mentally ill substance using), SAMI (substance abuse and mental illness), CAMI (chemical abuse and mental illness) and MISA (mentally ill substance abusers).

Some common examples that earn the term co-occurring disorders include a combination of cocaine or alcohol addiction with major depression or panic disorder, polydrug addiction or alcoholism with schizophrenia or even episodic polydrug abuse with borderline personality disorder.

Many addicts have even three or five disorders. The mix of disorders will vary from person to person depending on severity, function impairment, disability or chronicity. For instance, the disorders that form the combination may both be mild or severe or one is milder than its partner is.

A patient with dual disorders is likely to have more chronic and severe social, medical and emotional issues.

Prevention of relapse is a key focus in the treatment of such patients and hence programs that are specially designed are applied. Treatment for patients with co-occurring disorders has to take into account the problems that each patient has and their severity, as well as other factors that would make the treatment comprehensive. At least half of adults who have severe mental illness also have a combined substance use problem such as dependence or abuse of alcohol or drugs.

Some of the psychiatric disorders that are prevalent among patients who have dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders and personality disorders.

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