Co-occurring disorders are a real health concern in the United States. According to SAMHSA’s 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there are approximately 9.2 million adults in the U.S. who have a co-occurring disorder.

However, there still seems to be confusion about what co-occurring disorders are. In this article, Turning Point Center guides you through what co-occurring disorders are, including their symptoms, causes and treatment.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders (or dual diagnosis) refer to the presence of both a mental health and a substance abuse disorder occurring at the same time. Common mental health conditions associated with co-occurring disorders include anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, ADHD and more. Common substance abuse issues include the excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

How someone comes to have a co-occurring disorder varies. Sometimes, the onset of one issue triggers the others. For example, someone with depression may turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate. However, the opposite can be true as well. For example, someone addicted to alcohol may become depressed because of their addiction.

The combination of both mental health and substance use disorders can complicate the treatment process, as they can influence and exacerbate each other. For example, someone taking antidepressants may encounter health issues if they use substances as well.

Overall, addressing both mental health and substance abuse issues is important for effective treatment. Integrated treatment approaches, such as outpatient mental health programs that specialize in co-occurring disorders, can help individuals manage and recover from these complex conditions. These programs typically involve a combination of therapy, medication management, support groups and behavioral interventions.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

In the past, identifying whether someone had a co-occurring disorder was not always easy. Sometimes, a person with mental health problems could hide their substance abuse. Other times, a person with a substance abuse issue may not have been aware of their underlying mental health issues. Fortunately, we have since come a long way in identifying the signs of a co-occurring disorder.

Symptoms of co-occurring disorders usually reflect the individual symptoms of the mental health disorder and substance abuse issue the patient is struggling with. Someone struggling with anxiety disorders and substance abuse will have different symptoms than a person with schizophrenia and substance abuse. However, there are some symptoms that are common among those with co-occurring disorders. They include:

  • Social withdrawal as a result of the mental health or substance abuse issue
  • Falling behind on scholastic or professional responsibilities
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Increased risk-taking behavior
  • Changes in behavior or personality

Causes of Co-Occurring Disorders

The causes of co-occurring disorders may vary from person to person. However, there are several common factors that can contribute to the development of co-occurring disorders.

  • Genetic predisposition: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to both mental health disorders and substance abuse. Certain genes can increase the risk of developing these conditions, making them more susceptible to co-occurring disorders.
  • Trauma and adverse childhood experiences: Traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse, neglect or witnessing violence, can significantly impact a person’s mental health. These experiences can increase the risk of developing both mental health disorders and substance abuse issues later in life.
  • Environmental stressors: High levels of stress, such as financial difficulties, relationship problems or work-related stress, can contribute to the development of co-occurring disorders. These stressors can trigger or exacerbate both mental health and substance abuse issues.
  • Peer influence: Peer pressure and the influence of friends or social circles can play a role in the development of co-occurring disorders. Individuals may be more likely to engage in substance abuse if their peers are doing the same, which can further worsen their mental health.
  • Lack of social support: A lack of social support or a weak support system can increase the risk of developing co-occurring disorders. Without a strong support network, people may turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with their mental health issues.

Addressing the causes of co-occurring disorders requires a comprehensive and integrated treatment approach. Mental health professionals often focus on providing both substance abuse and mental health care together to address the underlying issues and promote recovery.

Treatment of Co-Occurring Disorders

Treating co-occurring disorders can be a sensitive and challenging process. Just treating one disorder at a time is often not enough. Because of this, mental health professionals often adopt an integrated approach.

Integrated treatment involves providing both substance abuse and mental health care together. It usually involves a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and 12-step programs. This usually occurs in a treatment center, therapist’s office or hospital.

There are also different treatment modalities depending on the severity of the condition. Inpatient programs provide patients with the opportunity to live in a treatment facility to detox and work through their mental health issues. Outpatient programs, on the other hand, provide more or less structured levels of care without requiring an overnight stay. Patients can choose from two kinds of outpatient programs: partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).

These treatment options equip people with co-occurring disorders with the coping mechanisms they need to reduce their maladaptive behaviors.

It’s Never too Late

Overall, co-occurring disorders can be a serious and difficult condition to deal with. However, recovery is possible.

If you believe you or a loved one suffers from substance abuse, Turning Point Care Center is here for you. Located in Moultrie, Georgia, we provide adult inpatient and outpatient detox and rehab programs. Our programs provide gender-specific treatment and support groups designed to make patients feel at ease.

For more information on our services, call 800-342-1075 or reach out using this form.