7 Things you Should Know about Co-Occurring Disorders

In recent years co-occurring disorders have been gaining more and more attention. Previously referred to as dual diagnosis, a co-occurring disorder is the presence of a mental health disorder along with substance abuse. This condition often causes immense suffering to an individual and those that care for the person. With the dangers associated with co-occurring disorders and the often underestimated prevalence, it’s important that we as a society understand them a little more deeply.

It’s More Prevalent than You Think

According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 7.9 million adults experienced co-occurring disorders in 2014. That’s almost 8 million people struggling with both drug or alcohol addiction and a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. According to the same survey, almost 39% of people with a substance abuse disorder also battle with a mental health disorder. Co-occurring disorders are much more common than many people realize.

Most Don’t Receive Help

Because of the complexity of symptoms, social stigma, and difficulty in dealing with co-occurring disorders, the majority of people don’t receive appropriate help. Some may receive help for their substance abuse issue without addressing the mental health disorder, while others seek treatment for their depression, anxiety, or other disorder without receiving help for their addiction. For those that receive no treatment or treatment for only one of the issues they are facing, recovery rates are low. Adding to this problem is the fact that many people with co-occurring disorders are able to function in their daily lives, which can lead to a sense of wellness and not needing help.

Learn about Co-Occurring Disorders

Misdiagnosis is Common

There are quite a few different ways in which co-occuring disorders can manifest. Consider all the different substances that somebody may be abusing and all of the different mental health disorders that may be present. The possibilities here make it difficult for doctors and clinicians to know exactly what is going on. The symptoms vary greatly from individual to individual, and different disorders cause different warning signs.

Furthermore, people are often under-diagnosed or over-diagnosed. The symptoms of klonopin withdrawal include depression, anxiety, and other experiences similar to mental health disorders. This leads clinicians to sometimes diagnose a co-occurring disorder where there isn’t one. On the other hand, somebody may have their mental health disorder written off as a symptom of their drug abuse. These misdiagnoses can result in the person not receiving appropriate treatment for what they have going on with them.

Certain People are at Higher Risk

Like drug addiction or mental health disorders in general, there are some risk factors. For example, people that have a family history of either addiction or mental health issues are at higher risk. There is a genetic factor in addiction and disorders such as major depressive, generalized anxiety, and schizophrenia. People who show symptoms of drug abuse or a mental disorder in adolescence are also at higher risk than those who develop symptoms later in life. If somebody experiences trauma early in life such as abuse, family dysfunction, or neglect, they also may be more likely to develop a co-occurring disorder.

It’s a Vicious Cycle

Because of the interaction between the two disorders, a vicious cycle is often created. As one’s mental health disorder arises, the person may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. When a person uses mind-altering substances, it worsens their mental health disorder. Thus a cycle is created, often sending the person spiraling downward. The cycle created can be debilitating and fatal. One condition feeds the other, pulling the individual down further into both of their disorders.

There are Many Treatment Models

As with both disorders individually, co-occurring disorders are treated via a variety of methods. The most common include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, medication management, motivational interviewing, and EMDR, especially with trauma-based disorders. Most dual diagnosis treatment centers include a strong family program and support groups, as building a support network can be extremely beneficial in one’s recovery. In addition to these traditional therapeutic models, a more holistic approach including relaxation methods, nutritional counseling, and exercise can be greatly beneficial.

Concurrent Treatment Works Best

This is a huge piece of the puzzle. If one is to truly recover, seeking treatment for both conditions works best. If a person stops using drugs or alcohol but is living with an untreated mental health disorder, they are likely to relapse. If somebody gets help for a disorder like major depressive, generalized anxiety, PTSD, or schizophrenia but keeps using mind-altering drugs, their mental health disorder is likely to return. Drugs and alcohol interact with medications in ways that we don’t fully understand, and the mental state rolls downhill quickly. The two must be treated together in order to give the individual the greatest chance at recovery.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, reach out for help today. Receiving professional help can help you gain a life back.



co-occurring-disorders infographic