co-occurring disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders: What Are They and How Do They Impact Substance Abuse Recovery?

A substance use disorder can be incredibly difficult to overcome. There’s the painful detoxification aspect, the persistent and overpowering cravings, and of course the ever-present fear of spiraling back into using again and eventually relapsing.

But when you’re struggling with an additional mental disorder at the same time, finding the power to finally become sober can be even more difficult.

That’s why it’s important to educate yourself about the ins and outs of co-occurring disorders, how they can impact substance use disorders, and the key to treating them effectively.

What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

Also known as a dual diagnosis, a co-occurring disorder is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as, “the coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder.”

People with co-occurring disorders often find it much more difficult to recover from an addiction because the two disorders tend to exacerbate each other. Depression, for instance, may lead an individual to drink heavily. The results of this dependence on alcohol may cause significant hardship and thus make the depression more severe.

It’s clear, then, how these two disorders can, in a sense, feed off of one another and make the effects of each even worse.

How Common Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are actually a lot more common than you may think.

SAMHSA reports that in 2014, about 7.9 million U.S. adults were suffering from a co-occurring disorder, or about 2% of the population.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that people with mood and anxiety disorders tend to be two times as likely to also have a substance use disorder. In that same vein, the likelihood of having a mood or anxiety disorder is twice as high for substance abusers.

What’s more, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 29% of all mentally ill individuals abuse alcohol or drugs. Of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, 47% also had a substance abuse disorder. And with individuals with bipolar disorder, 61% abused substances regularly.

Co-occurring disorders, then, are not only more common than you think, they’re also intricately linked to one another.

What Do Co-Occurring Disorders Mean for Treatment?

The presence of co-occurring disorders can make addiction treatment especially tricky. If only one disorder is treated while the other is left undiagnosed and thus untreated, the likelihood of relapse is much higher than in individuals without another mental disorder.

As mentioned before, mental illness and substance abuse tend to feed off of each other. So, while a substance use disorder may be fixed in the short term, the symptoms of the hidden mental disorder may eventually cause an individual to fall back into old destructive habits.

As such, anyone who suspects they may be suffering from co-occurring disorders should be careful to choose a recovery facility that is capable of identifying and treating such disorders as well as substance addiction.

Otherwise, your recovery efforts may be entirely in vain and you might end up turning back to substance abuse in the end.

Co-Occurring Disorders: A Double-Headed Problem

There is a clear association between substance abuse and mental disorders. What’s more, the prevalence of each occurring together is much higher than most people may think.

And given the problems it can cause for recovery if only one is properly diagnosed and treated, it’s absolutely essential that treatment centers equip themselves with the knowledge necessary to treat each of these disorders effectively.

Kimberly James

I am the founder and owner of The Beach House Treatment Center, The White House, Indigo Ranch, Sweetwater Mesa and Beach House Center for Wellness, all in Malibu, California.