Contrary to what is implied, a dual diagnosis may consist of more than two disorders that fall into one or more of the broad categories of mental health conditions, physical diseases, and/or substance use disorders. Generally, although not always, the term dual diagnosis implies that the individual is affected by one or more chemical dependencies (alcohol, drugs, prescription medication, etc.) as well as one or more emotional or psychological disorders. In the case of a dual diagnosis, one disorder is said to be comorbid with another (or others).
Success in treating the dually diagnosed patient (i.e., the individual with comorbid or co-occurring disorders) depends heavily on careful and diligent examination and the development of a good treatment plan. These patients have very special needs: 1) psychotherapy and/or biological therapies (medications) for their emotional disorders; 2) the requisite treatment program, psychotherapy, and possibly medication for their substance use disorder; and 3) the administration of all these treatments simultaneously. It is important, too, that each therapy or program be appropriate for the condition and tested and proven effective. This is called an integrated approach to treatment and will offer the dual diagnosis patient a good chance for recovery and a healthy, normal life.