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Dual Diagnosis: What are Behavioral Disorders? - depressed man

Dual Diagnosis: What are Behavioral Disorders?

Dual Diagnosis: What are Behavioral Disorders? - depressed manNot all clients with a dual diagnosis are living with a mood disorder. In some instances, their mental illness falls into the category of a behavioral disorder.

Dual Diagnosis Definition
A person has a dual diagnosis when they have a substance use issue and a mental health disorder concurrently. This is also called a co-occurring disorder.

A dual diagnosis can apply to someone who is using drugs, alcohol or both. Someone in this category continues to use chemicals in spite of negative consequences. They are unable to cut back or stop using their drug of choice, and they experience withdrawal symptoms (headaches, nausea, body aches, etc.) when they try to stop.

What are Behavioral Disorders?
A behavioral disorder is a mental health concern that changes the way a person acts or conducts themselves. These changes lead to discomfort or negative consequences for the affected person.

Examples of behavioral disorders include anxiety-related disorders and severe mental illnesses.

Anxiety-Related Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Everyone feels a certain level of anxiety about events in their life. If worries and anxiety get to the point where they interfere with a person’s everyday functioning and activities, then it may be an indication of generalized anxiety disorder. A person living with this mental health disorder is unable to let go of worries and has difficulty with uncertainty. They may describe themselves as feeling restless and have trouble concentrating or making decisions.

Someone experiencing generalized anxiety disorder can also be living with another anxiety or mood disorder as well. This disorder can successfully be treated with counseling and lifestyle changes, such as learning coping skills and relaxation techniques.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs following a frightening event. It can affect both those who experience the event and those who witness it. Symptoms of PTSD include severe anxiety, flashbacks and nightmares. People living with this behavioral disorder may also experience uncontrollable thoughts about the triggering event.

Not everyone who experiences a terrifying event such as a severe accident, natural disaster or being the victim of a crime develops PTSD. The fact that some people do is not an indication that they are weak or are lacking something in their character.

When faced with similar circumstances, different people will cope and heal in different ways. Some people are at a higher level of risk for PTSD due to:

  • Their temperament
  • How their brain and hormones respond to stress
  • Hereditary mental health risks
  • High-stress career that increases likelihood of being exposed to traumatic events (police officer, paramedic, firefighter, search and rescue, military combat personnel, ER doctor/nurse, etc.)
  • Lack of support from family and friends

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more than an insistence on particular patterns or routines. People living with this behavioral disorder are plagued by unreasonable thoughts and fears (the obsessive part of the disorder) that cause them to do repetitive activities (the compulsions). The obsessions and compulsions are so strong that they interfere with a person’s daily activities and cause them a significant amount of difficulty.

When someone tries to either ignore or stop their obsessions, it only makes their level of anxiety increase. Performing the compulsions is a way for a person with OCD to manage their stress. The more the person tries to push their obsessive thoughts and fears to the background, the stronger the desire to perform the rituals that make up the compulsions. As a result, the rituals take up more time in their regular schedule and have a greater impact in the person’s life.

For many people who have OCD, their compulsions are centered on specific themes. Some people may be particularly focused on germs and cleanliness and need to make sure that they wash their hands or keep certain surfaces clean. Other people may have rituals involving the following:

  • Making sure that doors are locked
  • Checking that they have turned off the stove
  • Requiring that things are in a particular order
  • Keeping items facing a certain way
  • Needing to count items

Risk factors for OCD can include a family history of OCD and experiencing a traumatic or stressful event. People who are living with other mental health disorders (depression, anxiety disorders) are at higher risk for developing OCD as well.

Severe Mental Illness


Schizophrenia is a chronic condition characterized by problems with thinking, behavior and emotions. Its symptoms may include the following:

Delusions. These are false beliefs that have a basis in reality. Someone who is delusional may believe that strangers are talking about them or are plotting to do them harm.

Hallucinations. Hallucinations are hearing, seeing or sensing things that aren’t there. Keep in mind that not everyone who has hallucinations has schizophrenia. Lack of sleep, some medications and illicit drugs can cause hallucinations.

Disorganized Thinking: A person with schizophrenia may have difficulty communicating because their thoughts are difficult to put together. They may start to say a sentence and then fail to complete it or start talking about another, unrelated topic.

Flat Affect: Someone with schizophrenia may not change expression when speaking. They may avoid making eye contact and speak in a monotone. Some people with this mental health disorder neglect their personal hygiene and show little motivation toward interacting with friends, pursuing hobbies or other pleasurable activities.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis with Behavioral Disorders

If you are looking for help for yourself or a loved one for a dual diagnosis with a behavioral disorder, Great Oaks Recovery Center can help. Our team treats substance abuse and mental health concerns concurrently to give our clients a comprehensive treatment plan and the best opportunity for long-term sobriety.

If you or someone you love is in need of alcohol or drug treatment, contact us anytime at (877) 977-3268. We are here to help.

What Are Co-occurring Disorders?
Generalized anxiety disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).