7 Facts About Co-Occurring Disorders You Should Know

By Juliet D'cruz



All too often, outsiders looking in essentialize the experiences of substance use disorder patients. With minimal knowledge of the nature of addiction, the blissfully ignorant jump to conclusions and (wrongfully) assume that every individual grappling with alcohol or drug abuse strives to slay the same beast. The reality of the matter is that battles with addiction affect no two lives the same. 

From genetic predisposition to traumatic life events to undiagnosed mental health disorders, there is a wide range of explanations for why individuals may develop an addiction. In some cases, an addict may contend with co-occurring disorders. In the context of substance abuse, a patient may be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in addition to a substance use disorder–forced to battle a two-headed dragon. 

Although co-occurring disorders are difficult to diagnose and have the potential to make drug treatment and recovery all the more challenging, there’s light at the end of the dark tunnel of dual diagnosis. As the saying goes, knowledge is power–and when facing inner demons, education is any substance use disorder survivor’s secret weapon. 

With these seven must-know facts under your belt, you’ll be better equipped to pursue the treatment you or a loved one desperately needs.  

Co-occurring disorders require specialized dual diagnosis treatment

With a co-occurring condition, individuals often experience depression and anxiety along with their substance abuse problems. The treatment should involve substance abuse and mental health specialists who work together to meet the patient’s needs. 

Co-occurring treatment should include psychotherapy and the 5 components in the mental health clinical program at facilities like Clean Recovery Center. These components include focusing on trauma, reconstructing their identity, managing their cognitive management techniques, incorporating movement, and developing personal growth strategies. 

Dual diagnosis includes several co-occurring disorders

While many people assume that a dual diagnosis involves substance abuse and depression, the combination of disorders can include more mental health issues. It’s commonplace for people to struggle with bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD, anxiety, and more. 

Some combinations are more common because mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are more common than other mental health issues. 

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Mental health issues can cause addiction

People with mental health issues often look for ways to treat their problems themselves. The usual choices tend to be drugs or alcohol. Self-medication rarely works as a treatment for mental health disorders. Eventually, self-medication becomes an addiction, intensifying the problem and pushing the person into dependency. 

Addiction can lead to mental health disorders

On the flip side, substance abuse disorders can also lead to mental health disorders. Psychiatric disorders are complicated, but having a problem with substance abuse can trigger underlying mental health disorders. 

Co-occurring disorders are common

Hearing that people can have two or more disorders with substance abuse might be surprising. But co-occurring disorders are relatively commonplace. 

According to the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about ten million people will have a combination of disorders. At least 60 percent of people with substance abuse problems also have a mental health disorder. 

The symptoms of one disorder can trigger symptoms of the other

When people have co-occurring disorders, a symptom from one issue can trigger another. The co-occurring condition can also mask the other disorder. When receiving treatment for one problem, the symptoms of the other might stay hidden. 

The disorder that shows up first can create other overlapping problems, including psychosocial issues and illnesses. 

A dual diagnosis is challenging to treat

Any combination of dual diagnoses is challenging to treat. Treating substance abuse is a struggle on its own, especially when patients aren’t ready to give up their addiction. People with substance abuse disorders have sadness or other emotions, which could seem like normal reactions rather than a co-occurring disorder.

Wrap up

When treating one disorder, health care providers have to look beyond the obvious and investigate whether patients have more than just one struggle. Patients should understand that they can have more than one diagnosable problem, especially when they have a substance abuse problem. 

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