What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

By July 23, 2021 July 31st, 2021 No Comments

Co-Occurring Disorders – The Synergy of Addiction and Mental Illness

When a person has both a mental illness and a substance use disorder, it is called a co-occurring disorder. The most common co-occurring disorders are depression and anxiety disorders and alcohol and drug use disorders. Treatment options for co-occurring disorders vary depending on the specific disorder, its severity, and the patient’s other medical and social issues. The most common mental health disorders found in co-occurring disorders include:1

  • Depressive Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality & Mood Disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Psychiatric Disorders

When combined, addiction and mental illness have an immense synergy that exacerbate each other. Here is a breakdown of their synergistic relationship.

How Mental Illness Affect Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders are generally caused by the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs. When left untreated or unaddressed, they cause significant health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities.2 While many people have different histories or reasons for developing a substance use disorder, mental disorders are a factor that may contribute to initial use.

Many individuals with an underlying mental disorder (most commonly depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder) may find themselves using drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating. However, the effect is usually the opposite. While it may seem like it help mitigate symptoms at first, illicit psychoactive substances are more likely to exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness in the long-term. Just as mental health issues can play into addiction, the other side of the spectrum also presents its own complications.

How Substance Use Disorder Affect Mental Disorders

Not only do psychoactive substances worsen the symptoms of mental illness, they can also direct affect one’s mental condition. Substance-Induced Disorders are defined as mental disorders triggered by heavy substance use. There are conditions in which individuals have developed panic disorder, depression and even psychotic disorders as a direct result of illicit drug use.

In addition, individuals with co-occurring disorders make intake and assessment processes for treatment centers a more time-intensive process. Many people who are intoxicated may exhibit signs that give the appearance of mental illness, but subside after the individual has gone through detox or medically-assisted withdrawal. It is important for treatment staff to be qualified in distinguishing mental disorders and symptoms of intoxication

Dual Diagnosis and Effective Treatments for Co-Occurring Disorders

Finding treatment for co-occurring disorders can be a complicated process. If a mental health facility to treat one disorder at a time, it is likely that the treatment would not be as effective. For example, mental health issues would be nearly impossible to treat if drug and alcohol addiction were still in the client’s life. On the other hand, if a client’s mental health disorders are not taken into account during substance abuse treatment, the efficacy of the treatment process would also be impaired.

The most effective treatment for co-occurring disorders is known as Dual Diagnosis.3 Dual diagnosis refers to treating both mental health conditions and chemical dependency at the same time during treatment. While the concept may seem like a simple solution, it takes great care and planning for clinicians and assessment specialists to tailor a treatment program.

Our team at Schick Shadel Hospital firmly believes that our clients deserve a holistic approach to their mental health and quality of life. If you or a loved one have any co-occurring disorders, talk to our intake specialists and we’ll find the best treatment option available for you.


  1. MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); [updated Jun 24; cited 2020 Jul 1]. Available from:
  2. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 42. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 05-3922. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2005.
  3. NIDA. 2018, August 1. Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses DrugFacts. Retrieved from
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