Co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis, are prevalent in mental illness and health addiction treatment. They represent a complex condition where a person simultaneously experiences a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. This intersection of mental health issues and substance abuse disorders can create a challenging cycle that impacts every aspect of a person’s life.

This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders, shedding light on the common mental health disorders that frequently co-occur with substance abuse. We will also explore the importance of integrated dual-diagnosis treatment in addressing these complex conditions.

Adult male looking out the window while holding his head suffering from one of the most common co-occurring disorders


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What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, refer to the simultaneous presence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder in an individual.

The relationship between these two types of disorders is often bidirectional. For instance, a person with a mental health condition may use substances as a form of self-medication, leading to a substance use disorder. Conversely, chronic substance use can trigger or worsen a mental health issue, creating a cycle that can be challenging to break without comprehensive treatment.

The Prevalence of Co-Occurring Disorders

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 7.7 million adults in the United States have co-occurring disorders. This prevalence highlights mental health issues and the critical need for integrated treatment approaches that concurrently address mental illness and substance abuse.

The prevalence of co-occurring substance addiction and psychiatric disorders can be attributed to various factors. Individuals with mental illness may turn to substances as a coping mechanism, leading to substance use disorders. Prolonged substance use can also contribute to developing mental health conditions.

The prevalence of co-occurring mental disorders also varies with demographic risk factors such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status. For example, young adults, males, and individuals with lower socioeconomic status are generally at a higher risk for developing a mental illness.

The 6 Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders can involve a wide range of mental health and substance abuse. However, some combinations are more common than others. These typically include mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often paired with substance abuse involving alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit substances.

Young lady with dual diagnosis sitting on the couch hugging her knees suffering from depression and addiction

Depression and Substance Use Disorders

Depression is a common mental health disorder characterized by persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and difficulty carrying out daily tasks. When depression co-occurs with a substance use disorder, it creates a vicious cycle. Individuals may use substances to alleviate their depressive symptoms, but over time, substance use can exacerbate depression and make it more challenging to treat.

Individuals with depression commonly abuse alcohol, as it can temporarily produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria. However, alcohol consumption is a depressant and can intensify feelings of sadness and fatigue in the long term. Similarly, individuals may misuse prescription drugs like benzodiazepines or turn to illicit substances such as cocaine or heroin to self-medicate, leading to a substance use disorder.

Treating co-occurring depression and alcohol or drug abuse requires an integrated approach that addresses both conditions simultaneously. This often involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy to address mental illness and drug abuse.

Anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse

Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and persistent worry about various aspects of life, such as work, relationships, health, or finances. These mood disorders can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, leading to physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

When an anxiety disorder co-occurs with drug abuse, the interplay between the two can be complex. Individuals with anxiety may turn to substances to alleviate their symptoms. For example, alcohol or sedatives might be used to reduce feelings of worry and fear. However, substance use can worsen anxiety disorder symptoms over time and even lead to the development of substance-induced anxiety disorders.

Treatment for co-occurring generalized anxiety disorder and substance abuse disorders typically involves an integrated approach that includes dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), medication, and self-care practices.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Alcohol or Drug Use

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental disorder or health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Individuals with PTSD often struggle with intense fear, helplessness, and horror.

Substance use is common among individuals with PTSD, as they may use substances to cope with their distressing symptoms. Alcohol, in particular, is often used as a form of self-medication. However, substance, drug and alcohol use can exacerbate PTSD symptoms and complicate recovery.

Integrated treatment approaches that address PTSD and substance abuse can be highly effective. These may include trauma-focused therapy, medication, and group therapy.

Man with dual emotions concept image for bipolar disorder and substance use disorder

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Use Disorders

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by severe mood swings that include episodes of depression and mania. Individuals with bipolar disorder may use substances to self-medicate their mood disorder and psychotic symptoms or to enhance feelings of euphoria during manic or depressive episodes themselves.

However, substance use can worsen the course of bipolar disorder, leading to more severe and frequent mood episodes. Moreover, it can interfere with the effectiveness of medications used to treat bipolar disorder.

Treatment for co-occurring bipolar disorder and substance use disorders often involves a combination of medication to stabilize mood, individual therapy to help manage symptoms, and support groups to foster peer connection and recovery.

Personality Disorders and Substance Use Disorders

Personality disorders involve enduring patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience that deviate from cultural expectations. These patterns can lead to significant distress and severe functional impairment. Common personality disorders include borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

Substance use is common among individuals with personality disorders, often as a way to cope with distressing symptoms. However, substance use can exacerbate symptoms of addictive disorders and lead to a host of additional problems, including legal issues, relationship problems, and physical health problems.

Treatment for co-occurring personality disorders and substance use disorders typically involves psychotherapy, medication-assisted treatment, and skills training.

Schizophrenia and Substance Use Disorders

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self, and behavior. Common symptoms of developing schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech or behavior.

Substance use is common among individuals with schizophrenia, with tobacco and cannabis being the most commonly used substances. However, substance use can worsen schizophrenia symptoms and make treatment more challenging.

Treatment for co-occurring schizophrenia and substance use disorders often involves antipsychotic medication, therapy, and community support programs.

Young adult male undergoing individual therapy for co-occurring disorder

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders

When treating co-occurring disorders, a comprehensive approach is often the most effective. This means treating both the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder simultaneously, as they are interconnected. Treatment plans are typically personalized to meet the individual’s unique needs and may involve a combination of therapies.

Psychotherapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can help individuals understand their disorders and develop coping strategies. Medication may also be used to manage symptoms of mental health disorders or to help with withdrawal symptoms during detoxification. In addition to treatment, support groups can provide a community of individuals who understand the challenges of co-occurring disorders, offering a valuable source of support and encouragement.

Find The Path to Recovery and Wellness at Camelback Recovery

At Camelback Recovery, we understand the complexities of co-occurring disorders and offer a comprehensive dual-diagnosis and behavioral health treatment center in Phoenix, AZ, that provides comprehensive care for mental health and substance abuse. Our team of experienced professionals is committed to providing personalized care and treatment program that addresses both aspects of these disorders. We believe in the power of integrated treatment and the potential for every individual to achieve recovery and wellness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring disorders, contact Camelback Recovery at 602-466-9880 today and take the first step towards a healthier, happier future. We offer inpatient mental health treatment, mental health IOP, mental health PHP and other programs designed to provide comprehensive care and support. Your path to recovery starts here.