Co-Occurring Conditions: What Is a Dual Diagnosis and What Treatment Options are Available?

Eating disorder recovery can be a long, but very rewarding process. When a patient is diagnosed with co-occurring disorders or receive a dual diagnosis, chances are they will need access to additional treatment options for their eating disorders. While many families are familiar with common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, most people are not aware that many individuals with eating disorders also have one or more co-occurring mental health disorders.

At eating disorder treatment centers, such as Oliver-Pyatt Centers, patients have access to the highest level of care in a safe and comfortable setting. Offering the highest quality medical, psychiatric and clinical care services to women, patients with or without a dual diagnosis have access to top-quality eating disorder treatment at Oliver-Pyatt Centers. While co-occurring disorders can definitely be more complex, early intervention and access to supportive eating disorder counseling programs greatly increase an individual’s chances for a successful recovery.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders and How Is a Dual Diagnosis Treated?

In terms of eating disorder treatment, co-occurring disorders (also known as dual diagnosis) refer to any instance where a person is diagnosed with two or more psychiatric disorders. This means any time an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa or binge eating disorder occurs concurrently with another mental health diagnosis, additional care is necessary. Both conditions should be addressed simultaneously to provide the most comprehensive care possible.

For parents and families in search of the right eating disorder treatment center for their loved ones, a dual diagnosis should be something that greatly influences the program that is chosen. Unfortunately, it is common to see patients with a serious mental health condition like depression only treated for their eating disorder. It is very important that both or all conditions are considered and appropriately treated. Co-occurring eating disorder counseling often requires additional assessment of the patient before tailoring a treatment program to fit their individual experience. This means when choosing an eating disorder recovery program, families need to look for a multifaceted and integrated approach to treatment.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

While eating disorders in women is a concept most people are familiar with, many do not understand that men can develop eating disorders as well. Additionally, people generally do not realize eating disorders are often complicated by other mental disorders, such as depression. If families would like to better understand the unique challenges of eating disorder treatment for dual diagnosis, they must first learn about the different co-occurring disorders and how they relate to one another.


Depression is one of the most common co-occurring conditions associated with eating disorders. Characterized by feelings of guilt, worthlessness and sadness, depression can have a dramatic effect on many different facets of life. Depression can result in low energy levels, self-harming, feelings of self-hatred, a sense of insignificance and contribute to the development of eating disorders. Some of the factors that can lead to depression include hormonal imbalances, substance abuse and traumatic life events.

Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

Studies show that 50% of people who have an eating disorder are also abusing substances, such as alcohol or illegal drugs. This rate is five times higher than that of the general population. Alcoholism and substance abuse are characterized by an uncontrollable and compulsive need to consume alcohol or other drugs, leading to dependency. On their own, these mental health disorders have very severe consequences and when they exist alongside an eating disorder, they can be deadly.

There are many different factors that may contribute to an addiction to alcohol or drugs including genetics, social and biological factors, familial circumstances and more. Many of the factors that contribute to the development of alcoholism and substance abuse are very similar to those that increase the chances of developing an eating disorder.


Anxiety is another mental health disorder that has been talked about more frequently in the modern age. Those struggling with anxiety may experience fear, nervousness and general apprehension. Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, panic disorders, phobias and generalized anxiety disorder.

Similar to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, anxiety disorders can often be linked to past traumas, a family history of anxiety disorders and relational stresses. Anxiety disorders often occur with eating disorders as eating disorders are often developed to help people cope with feelings of anxiety.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Another subject that many eating disorder counseling programs touch on is obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by repeated thoughts, sensations, feelings, ideas and/or behaviors that are used compulsively or as a repeated habit. The behaviors found in cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder can be similar to those found in many common eating disorders.

Many of the people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder experience symptoms that are related to both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It is believed a variety of factors can contribute to the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder including past traumas, genetics, hormonal and chemical imbalances.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is another very severe anxiety disorder. With PTSD, anxiety symptoms can be triggered anytime an individual is exposed to an event that is similar to a past traumatic experience. This means a PTSD episode can be set in motion by anything that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope in a stressful situation.

Common signs of PTSD include emotional detachment, flashback episodes, the avoidance of certain places or people related to a past traumatic event and more. People with PTSD are much more likely to develop an eating disorder than their peers, often using their eating disordered behaviors as a coping mechanism.

Why Do People Develop Co-Occurring Disorders?

There are many similarities between the personality traits, social factors, physiological conditions and neurotransmitters involved in the development of mental health disorders. Most often, co-occurring disorders are developed as a coping mechanism for feelings of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. For example, someone with depression may use food to cope with their feelings of sadness and worthlessness in an effort to make themselves feel better, even if momentarily. Alternatively, if someone has a substance abuse problem, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to help satisfy their cravings or avoid physical or mental pain.


What Type of Treatment is Available for Individuals with Co-Occurring Disorders?

Today, the treatment options for eating disorders and other co-occurring disorders is more advanced than ever before. However, not all eating disorder facilities are created equal and some may not understand the importance of integrated treatment. This means parents and loved ones must be extra vigilant when helping patients choose the right eating disorder recovery program to fit their individual needs. At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, and our affiliate eating disorder treatment centers, patients will benefit from having access to both medical and psychiatric care on-site. This is the highest level of care a patient can receive outside of a hospital setting and is vital when treating those struggling with a dual diagnosis.

The Importance of Integrated Care

Eating disorder facilities that provide integrated care for their patients work to integrate support for the addiction, while treating the eating disorder. With this type of integrated treatment, eating disorder treatment centers can lower the relapse rate among their recovery program graduates, help to foster long-term success and reduce the number of self-harm cases and suicide attempts made by high-risk patients.

Additional benefits of comprehensively treating co-occurring mental health and addictive disorders:

  • Group therapy provides individuals with a much stronger support network
  • Simultaneously treating co-occurring disorderscan help patients identify their unique triggers and learn new ways to cope
  • Integrated recovery programs are designed to help patients overcome the negative side effects of their co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Medication therapy is often more effective when addressing both mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders simultaneously

When the treatment options for eating disorders include an integrated recovery program, patients have a greater chance of achieving long-term success. Symptoms such as depression, social anxiety, compulsive behaviors and substance abuse no longer need to be an obstacle to care if eating disorder facilities adopt programs tailored to fit the needs of patients with these co-occurring disorders. While mental health and eating disorders in women and men can be very complex, with proper treatment, recovery is possible.

Levels of Care

As families explore treatment options for eating disorders, they should keep in mind there is not a “one size fits all” recovery program. Parents and other loved ones should consider these factors, as well as speaking to an eating disorder professional, when choosing the right program for a successful recovery:

  • Residential treatment programs provide structured care in a supervised and safe rehabilitation setting. Patients here are removed from the triggers and stressors they may encounter in the outside world, making recovery the sole focus.
  • Outpatient eating disorder treatment is a care option for those who do not require a higher level of care or who may be stepping down from residential treatment. Outpatient eating disorder treatment allows clients to re-integrate into their lives, while still maintaining a sense of support and structure to their recovery.
  • The use of psychotherapeutic medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, may be prescribed as part of a co-occurring treatment program.
  • Access to peer support groups can be extremely important to the recovery process for any individuals, particularly those with a dual diagnosis or who are experiencing isolation or social withdrawal.Peer counseling can help bring patients out of isolation and create a lasting support system.
  • Education and counseling for families may be an essential part of a successful recovery program. Having a strong support system in place is vital for anyone who has an eating disorder and otherco-occurring conditions.

Contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers Today

Eating disorders in women and men can put individuals at risk for a number of different long-term health consequences. With a co-occurring or dual diagnosis, treatment can be especially complex. At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, and our affiliate programs, we provide top-quality treatment in a compassionate and comfortable setting. We offer highly customized treatment designed to help patients through the recovery process with access to both medical, psychiatric and clinical care. Call 866-511-4325 or contact our friendly admissions team online today to learn more about the eating disorder treatment programs we offer.