Co-Occurring Disorders: Why Mental Illness Often Accompanies Addiction

It should come as no surprise that mental illnesses are closely connected to substance abuse disorders. When people start receiving treatment, it’s important that both the addiction and the mental illness are given attention throughout the process so that the chances of relapsing are minimized. 

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Why Substance Use and Mental Disorders Co-occur 

Mental health disorders are known to increase a person’s risk of using drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse is also known to increase the risk of a person developing a mental illness. This is why dual diagnosis in Northern California is important to take care of both issues. However, it’s difficult to prove which one is the onset of the other.

There are specific factors in play that can increase the risk of a person with mental illness developing a substance use disorder. 

● Environmental triggers, including stress, trauma, and other events

● Genetic predisposition

● Early exposure to drug use


Co-Occurring Disorders 

There are some mental disorders that are more common than others in individuals who also have a substance disorder. These disorders include: 

● Mood disorders: this is a broad group that consists of disorders like depression and bipolar. This group of disorders is primarily associated with chronic feelings of sadness that last much longer and are more intense than normal feelings of sadness.

● Anxiety disorders: fear and anxiety are normal, but if they last for a long period of time and/or worsen over time. These disorders can disrupt normal life and making engaging in any activities quite difficult. These can include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and social anxiety disorder.

● Psychotic disorders: these present in one of two ways, delusions and hallucinations. The individual is disconnected from reality and can become a danger to themselves or those around them. These include schizophrenia, postpartum psychosis, and schizoaffective disorder.

● Eating disorders: people engage in eating patterns that are not healthy, whether that’s choosing not to eat or engaging in unhealthy diets. These include anorexia nervosa, binge eating, or bulimia.

● Personality disorders: these involve unhealthy thought patterns and actions that can disrupt everyday life. These include schizotypal personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder, to name a few.

● Behavioral disorders: these disorders most commonly occur in children, and include conduct disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. 

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders 

Both the physical and emotional symptoms of co-occurring disorders can vary depending on the individual’s specific circumstances, the substances being used, and the type of mental illness they have. The most common social symptoms of these co-occurring disorders include:

● aggressiveness

● violent behavior

● isolation

● legal problems

● instability with employment and housing

● problems with managing budgets

● having problems focusing

● suicidal ideation

● hygiene/health problems


It doesn’t help that there is a stigma attached to mental disorders, substance abuse, and both. This stigma doesn’t make it easy for individuals to get the help they need and deserve. As a result, most people choose to continue their lives untreated.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, a mental disorder, or both, then it’s important to speak with a mental health professional as soon as possible.

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