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Defining Co-Occurring Disorders

The term "co-occurring disorders" typically refers to an individual having co-existing mental health and substance use disorders. There are a number of other terms that have been used to describe people in this category as well, including:

  • Dually diagnosed
  • MICA (mentally ill chemical abusers)
  • MISA (mentally ill substance abusers)
  • CAMI (chemical abuse and mental illness)
  • SAMI (substance abuse and mental illness)

SAMHSA's 2002 report to Congress defines co-occurring disorders as:

Individuals who have at least one mental disorder as well as an alcohol or drug use disorder. While these disorders may interact differently in any one person (e.g., an episode of depression may trigger a relapse into alcohol abuse, or cocaine use may exacerbate schizophrenic symptoms), at least one disorder of each type can be diagnosed independently of the other.

SAMHSA's report to Congress also indicates that:

  • Co-occurring disorders may include any combination of two or more substance abuse disorders and mental disorders identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - IV (DSM-IV)
  • There are no specific combinations of substance abuse disorders and mental disorders that are defined uniquely as co-occurring disorders
  • Substance abuse and mental health problems (such as binge drinking by people with mental disorders) that do not reach the diagnostic threshold are also part of the co-occurring disorders landscape and may offer opportunities for early intervention
  • Both substance abuse disorders and mental disorders have biological, psychological and social components
  • Co-occurring disorders may vary among individuals and in the same individual over time
  • Both disorders may be severe or mild, or one may be more severe than the other

Some of the most common psychiatric disorders seen in patients with co-occurring addiction issues include:5

  • schizophrenia
  • bipolar disorder
  • borderline personality disorder
  • major depression
  • anxiety and mood disorders
  • post traumatic stress disorder
  • pathological gambling
  • sexual and eating disorders
  • conduct disorders
  • attention deficit disorder

Patients being treated for mental health disorders also often abuse the following types of substances:5

  • alcohol
  • nicotine
  • opiates
  • sedatives
  • stimulants
  • marijuana
  • hallucinogens
  • prescription drugs


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