Dual Diagnosis vs Comorbidity

Understanding Dual Diagnosis

When looking at dual diagnosis vs comorbidity, it’s important to look at each separately. A dual diagnosis is when you simultaneously have a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. Mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Substance use disorder is usually when people are involved in the consumption of drugs, alcohol, or any other addictive substances. When mental health conditions occur with substance use disorder, it can make the effects even worse and make the problems worsen. When looking at previous reports, it was found that 50% of people who have addiction problems also have a mental health disorder or vice versa. 

When looking at what comes first with dual diagnosis, meaning what gets diagnosed first, it can vary and doesn’t mean one caused the other. Sometimes someone starts getting mental health conditions when they are consuming drugs or alcohol but it doesn’t mean it caused it directly. When someone consumes these substances it can sometimes bring out underlying mental health conditions that were there before but were better at hiding and masking it.

What is Comorbidity?

When using the term comorbid, this means that the conditions can affect your physical and mental health, both together and separately. One example of a comorbid condition could be diabetes and then you could be later diagnosed with depression.   Both of these conditions can affect your quality of life from the symptoms it coincides with. Some other examples of comorbidity are heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, dementia, joint disease, arthritis, and sensory impairment. Some people are more likely to have comorbidities than other people. These people are usually older in age, disorder type, and socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, having completely different and separate issues makes it a completely different treatment plan for the different conditions you have. Usually part of the treatment plan is taking medicine, which means you will be on more than one medication to treat the different comorbid conditions you have. Sometimes the prescription drug you have to take for one condition can lower the effectiveness of the other prescription drug you are on when it interacts with each other. 

Comparing Dual Diagnosis and Comorbidity

While dual diagnosis and comorbidity are commonly used interchangeably and people mix the two up, both terms refer to different conditions. There might be some overlap but there’s also a clear difference between dual diagnosis and comorbidity. When looking at dual diagnosis vs comorbidity, the one similarity that dual diagnosis and comorbidity share is referring to more than one condition the patient is experiencing. The main difference between the two is that dual diagnosis specifically deals with substance abuse that comes with a mental health issue. As for comorbidity, it refers to substance abuse and an additional physical condition. Another main difference between the two conditions is how they get treated after being diagnosed.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

comorbidity and dual diagnosis symptoms

The treatment for dual diagnosis includes the treatment for your mental health condition and substance use disorder together. The main part of treatment is to stop using the addictive substance you’re using. This depends on how dependent someone is on the substance and if it’s a severe addiction, they might need to seek professional help with medically assisted detox. Other factors of the usual treatment plan include: 

  • Behavioral therapy: This specific type of therapy refers to cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients how to cope with and change unhelpful patterns of thinking. Dialectical behavioral therapy refers to the practice of reducing self-harm behaviors. 
  • Medication: Your doctor might prescribe you medication for one or both of your conditions. Sometimes one prescribed drug can reduce symptoms of both conditions at the same time. 
  • Support groups: Even if you’re not someone who opens up easily, support groups are a good way to slowly open up or test the waters of therapy in an informal setting. Support groups can give emotional and social support to people going through something similar in the group. Support groups usually have a specific condition they are focusing on. For example, there are support groups for people addicted to alcohol. 
  • Inpatient care: More severe forms of dual diagnosis can make inpatient care the best plan of treatment. This gives the patient 24/7 care at a facility like WhiteSands Treatment to fully treat the patient mentally and physically. 

Treatment for Comorbidity

Depending on what your comorbidity is will make the treatment vary amongst different patients. Usually, the comorbidity of mental health disorder and substance use disorder has a couple of options for a treatment plan. The treatment plan for the comorbidity is the following treatments: 

  • Medications: There are medications that treat opioid, alcohol, and nicotine dependence, which can help with the accompanying symptoms of the other disorders you might be experiencing as well. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy modifies the thinking process by learning not to have a harmful way of thinking coinciding with harmful behaviors. 
  • Dialectical behavior therapy: This is used to reduce people from harming themselves.
  • Therapeutic communities: This is a form of long-term residential treatment for people with substance-use disorders. This practice mainly focuses on the resocialization of the person. 
  • Exposure therapy: This is a behavioral treatment for people who have severe anxiety disorders. It consists of someone experiencing repeated exposure to a situation they fear, object, or traumatic event. The main goal of this is to desensitize the patient to what’s triggering them and help with coping mechanisms. 
  • Integrated group therapy: This treatment is specifically for people who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and substance use disorder. Alongside, there are spouses of addicts support groups that provide essential assistance for family members coping with a loved one’s addiction. Patients in the primary group learn behavioral skills to cope with trauma, PTSD, and substance use disorder, while spouses gain insights and coping mechanisms in their dedicated support groups.

Impact of Dual Diagnosis and Comorbidity on Mental Health

When someone is diagnosed with dual diagnosis, they usually have some type of mental health disorder, and the symptoms go hand-in-hand with it. Some of the mental health symptoms a patient might experience are extreme mood changes, confusion, problems concentrating, avoiding social activities, and thoughts of suicide.  When looking at the impact of comorbidity on mental health, studies have found depression and anxiety to be the most common comorbidities people experience. This usually happens due to having similar biological mechanisms when looking at the brain. WhiteSands Treatment can help treat any dual diagnosis symptoms as they are a full-service rehab facility well-equipped with a medical and holistic approach toward treatment. Call WhiteSands Treatment at 877-640-7820 to make an appointment. 


What exactly is dual diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis refers to simultaneously having a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. Some of the mental health disorders that can occur while having a substance use disorder are anxiety, depression, and PTSD. 

What differentiates dual diagnosis from comorbidity?

The main difference between dual diagnosis and comorbidity is that dual diagnosis is substance abuse and mental health issue. Comorbidity only refers to substance abuse and another physical condition, not a mental health condition. 

How are comorbid conditions typically treated?

Comorbid conditions usually are treated with medications and mental health treatment which is usually some form of therapy. The combination of the two usually helps symptoms become reduced or at least disappear entirely if possible. 

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.