Contributed by Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab clinical team member Kathryn Taylor, MA, LPC/MHSP.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 8 million American adults suffered from a combination diagnosis of a substance use disorder and a mental health condition (known as a co-occurring disorder) in 2014.
The Relationship Between Addiction And Co-Occurring Disorders
Mental health disorders and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Both conditions show similar symptoms, and often one disorder results in the development or progression of the other.
Addiction and mental health disorders can vary in type. Regardless of the specific condition, the intensity of symptoms, or the length of time during which the concerns have been present, mental health and addiction disorders are all treatable.
Mental health disorders increase a person’s chances of developing an addiction. Every person has a unique addiction tolerance, and poor mental health may leave a person more prone to initial substance abuse and to becoming a compulsive user. In some cases, the disorder is diagnosed prior to the onset of addiction. At other times, a mental health condition is not even suspected before the addiction develops.
8 Factors Increasing Susceptibility To Co-Occurring Disorders
Heavy stress, for example, might make a person susceptible to experiencing anxiety. Furthermore, people who have suffered trauma have a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. Extremely stressful situations do not cause the same amount of anxiety in all people, and not everyone who experiences the same occurrence will necessarily be traumatized by it.
Many personal factors have an impact on the risk level of having a severe emotional reaction. They may include:
- Genetic makeup
- Family history of a mental health condition
- Poor personal coping mechanisms
- Low economic status
- Poor emotional support system
- Negative childhood experiences
- Physical and/or verbal abuse
- Prolonged stressful conditions 
All of the above factors can influence an individual’s risk for developing a mental health disorder along with addiction. Genes, environment, personality and background all play their own part.
When it comes to addiction, not all drugs will have the same effect, either. Some drugs are more addictive than others. Also, if a particular drug seems to compensate well for the particular emotional needs of an individual, his or her likelihood of becoming addicted to that substance will be higher than the addiction risk of the general population.
Utilizing Medications To Manage Symptoms
In an attempt to manage anxiety symptoms, a person may choose to turn to medications that produce calming effects on the brain, such as benzodiazepines like Klonopin or Xanax. After time, however, as tolerance develops and more of the drug is required to produce a similar effect, the intake increases as well. All too often, the result is the onset of addiction to prescription medications. Many adults suffer from such addictions, feeling emotionally dependent on these medications just to make it through the day.
Uncovering A Mental Health Condition
Sometimes, co-occurring disorders are not properly diagnosed because a person with the symptoms of a mental health disorder does not share enough details to reveal the condition. He or she may assume that the addiction is to blame for any emotional or mental anguish. The symptoms of each disorder sometimes parallel and intertwine, so good professional consultation is necessary to distinguish each individual’s needs.
Often, a person with co-occurring disorders will not seek treatment for a mental health condition as soon as he or she will seek assistance for addiction or another physical condition. Leaving mental health disorders untreated will result in a worsening of symptoms. As the symptoms worsen, the person’s ability to function will likely worsen as well. This can result in job loss, physical illness, injury or even more grave consequences such as homelessness or suicide.
When Addiction Arises First
Sometimes, addiction happens before a mental health disorder is present. The mental health condition then worsens as the addiction develops. Addiction affects the production of pleasure system chemicals in the brain, and a person will begin to lose the ability to balance himself or herself naturally through positive personal experiences. What used to bring joy will be less joyful, basically.
When someone is suffering from addiction, not only does he or she lose the ability to naturally feel joyful, but he or she can also become desensitized to actions that will cause serious personal and emotional problems. This can ultimately result in less social support and even more stress. These behaviors could include lying to friends, employers or family members, breaking essential trust cycles that are critical in displaying and receiving love, which is a basic human necessity. Mental health and wellness quickly suffer under such conditions.
How To Treat Co-Occurring Disorders
Integrated treatment is essential for co-occurring conditions. As each case is unique, strong professional consultation and treatment is critical. Honest communication and consistency are key, but the good news is that as each condition improves, the other will usually come along in suit.
No addiction is successfully treated if a lingering mental health condition prevails and continues to make life difficult. If you’re struggling with addiction, get your complete diagnosis and the right treatment plan from a medical professional today.
Community Discussion: Share Your Thoughts Below!
Which co-occurring disorders have been present in your situation? Which types of treatment worked well for you? Please add your comment below.
About the author: “Factors That Increase Susceptibility to Developing Co-Occurring Disorders” was written by Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab clinical team member Kathryn Taylor, MA, LPC/MHSP. Kathryn has several years of experience working in dual diagnosis addiction treatment, women’s issues, and trauma treatment as a licensed mental health counselor.
Site Description: Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab (https://www.duffysrehab.com), located in beautiful Northern California on a 21-acre hot springs resort offers specialty addiction treatment, including detoxification, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient programming to men and women age 18 and over. Specialty services include a medically-supervised detox program, suboxone treatment, family counseling, and a dedicated aftercare program.
: Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment Guide | American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://americanaddictioncenters.org/co-occurring-disorders/.