What are Co-Occurring Disorders?
Co-occurring disorders happen when a person has a substance use disorder at the same time as a mental health disorder.
While commonly used to refer to the combination of substance use and mental disorders, the term can also refer to other combinations of disorders, such as a medical condition and substance abuse, or a mood disorder and substance abuse.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States have co-occurring disorders.
Co-occurring disorders were first identified in the 1980s.
People with mental illness are more likely to experience a substance use disorder than those not affected by a mental illness.
Co Occurring Disorders and Substance Abuse
There is a strong link between substance use disorders and other mental health disorders.
People who have one mental health disorder have a good chance of developing at least one additional co-occurring mental health condition in their lifetimes. And the mental health symptoms associated with their co-occurring disorders may worsen.
Researchers have identified the following possible factors that may indicate why co-occurring disorders are so common with substance abuse disorders.
Overlapping Risk Factors
Many risk factors overlap for substance use disorders and other mental health conditions. These may include environmental factors, such as trauma exposure or genetics, which make a person more likely to develop co-occurring disorders.
As a way of coping with the symptoms of mental health conditions and mental illness, people begin to abuse drugs or alcohol, potentially leading to substance addiction. This concept is often referred to as “self-medicating” but that is misleading. While alcohol and drug abuse can mask symptoms, they may also exacerbate these indicators in both the short and long terms.
Drug-Induced Brain Changes
Substance use can affect areas of the brain also disrupted by mental health disorders. This multiplies the likelihood of increasing symptoms associated with the mental disorder. These include mood disorders, anxiety disorders and impulse-control, as well as schizophrenia.
Mental Health Disorders
Common co-occurring illnesses with drug or alcohol abuse include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, personality disorders, specific phobias, eating disorders, panic disorder and agoraphobia. They are characterized by an intense state of worry and fear resulting from a threatening event or life stressor.
Depression, one of the most common mental illnesses, affects millions of people around the world. It makes them have negative sensations about their feelings, thoughts, and actions. It can cause a loss of interest in activities that once brought joy and pleasure.
Ironically, efforts to fight the illness with drugs or alcohol can lead to worse depression. Substance-induced depression, also referred to as drug-induced happiness, happens when the first elation of the alcohol or other drugs wears off.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has irrational thoughts and behaviors that become all-consuming. They begin to interfere with day-to-day responsibilities and routines.
For example, people with OCD may feel obligated to repeatedly wash their hands to eliminate germs, to arrange items on a desk or shelf in a certain way or check the stove numerous times to make sure it is off.
The compulsive behaviors associated with OCD are not just quirks in personality, but symptoms of a severe mental health disorder. According to estimates from Stanford University, OCD occurs in up to 2.2 percent of the population annually.
Those who suffer from bipolar disorders and mental illness experience excessive and unruly scenes of both obsession and sadness due to an imbalance in brain chemicals. These can include severe mood swings.
The intensity of these symptoms is typically elevated when there is also abuse of drugs or alcohol, leading to increasingly irregular brain activity.
Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders and there are many different variations of anxiety.
When people with anxiety or mental health issues use substances to cope with their symptoms, the dependency on those substances may increase. This makes them more vulnerable to substance abuse issues or drug and alcohol addiction and may worsen their anxiety.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) usually have experienced physical wounds such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) or emotional pain from harrowing experiences such as suffering or witnessing physical, psychological, or sexual abuse.
People with a substance abuse disorder may be trying to cover up the pain of PTSD, but only succeed in making the symptoms worse.
Symptoms of a Mental Health Disorder
- Changes in sleeping and eating and habits
- Isolating from family and friends
- Experiencing extreme emotional highs and/or lows
- Dropping activities or hobbies that used to be important
- Lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Suffering from physical complaints with no cause
- Increased irritability
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Frequently feeling afraid without a reason
- Having difficulty thinking clearly or focusing
- Inability to see these changes in personality or behavior
- Increased or decreased libido
- Loss of touch with reality, such as paranoia, delusions or hallucinations, paranoia
- Participating in risky behaviors such as substance use or promiscuous sex.
Symptoms of a Substance Use Disorder
- Having difficulty coping or functioning with stress without drugs or alcohol
- Unable to stop using drugs or alcohol even when wanting to
- When substance use stops, withdrawal symptoms occur
- Inability to stop using even after it has caused or worsened mental or physical health conditions
- Frequently absent or tardy from work or school
- Having trouble completing tasks at school, work or home because of substance use
- or interpersonal relationships
- Not becoming intoxicated after ingesting large amounts of a substance (an increased tolerance)
- Isolating from family and family
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of a substance
- Spending time with different friends
- Participating in risky behaviors such as stealing or driving under the influence
La Hacienda Treatment Center Deals with Dual Diagnosis
Understanding addiction and co-occurring disorders is part of what makes La Hacienda Treatment Center unique. Our medical and clinical staff screen for both the substance use disorder and co-occurring mental illness, then prepare an integrated treatment plan based on the individual patient.
La Hacienda is the place to initiate sobriety and to learn to stay sober. Within 3-5 weeks of entering our comprehensive treatment program, patients have completed most phases of residential treatment, including detoxification, individual counseling, group therapy, family therapy, specialized classes, activities therapy, and detailed instruction in 12 Step application.
For 50 years, individuals and families seeking to improve their lives have come to our serene campus to heal and join the growing number of those who have successfully left behind their addictions.
La Hacienda is one of the leading privately owned treatment centers in the state of Texas. It is ideal for those desiring to escape the bustling city while working toward a full and lasting recovery from addictions and addictive behavior.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance abuse problem with common co-occurring disorders, please phone (800) 749-6160 and talk with one of our onsite admission professionals. They can help you take the initial step to a better tomorrow.
Anxiety is a mental health condition that causes intense, persistent and excessive worry and fear about everyday situations. Symptoms of anxiety include rapid breathing, fast heart rate, sweating, and feeling tired.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder in which someone has difficulty recovering after witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event.