What Are Co-Occurring Disorders and How Are These Connected With Addiction?

Man in recovery on the beach

Written by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Sponsored By Seasons in Malibu Addiction Treatment Center

Addiction and substance abuse is a worldwide problem, negatively affecting countless individuals with the damaging repercussions that result from substance abuse. The rampant addiction problem that includes abuse of substances like alcohol, illicit drugs, pharmaceuticals, and more is not felt only on an individual level, but across families, communities, and even nations as a whole.

In the United States alone, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that abuse of alcohol, illicit drugs, and tobacco has cost our nation over $700 billion annually in costs related to health care, lost work productivity, and crime [1].

Understanding the Complexity of Addiction

With so much at stake for those who struggle with addiction and the resulting cost to our nation, continuing to understand the complexity of substance abuse disorder is needed to improve treatment quality and effectiveness.

Man in sandOne important issue with addiction that is too often overlooked is the issue of co-occurring disorders, or other mental illnesses that typically coincide along with substance abuse disorders.

Although eight million adults in the United States alone have co-occurring disorders, or co-existing mental health and substance abuse disorders, the signs and symptoms are often overlooked or misdiagnosed, leading to ineffective treatment [2].

Some of the common mental illnesses that may develop with addiction and substance abuse disorders may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Schizophrenia

Co-occurring disorders are complex, as there are many factors that overlap between both mental illness and substance abuse disorders. In some cases, one disorder may be much more severe than the other, often masking an underlying issue that is not as apparent.

This may lead to diagnosis and treatment of the issue that is most problematic at the time, while the other disorder remains untreated. Undiagnosed and/or untreated co-occurring disorders can lead to a higher incidence of relapse and greater intensity of the symptoms that are associated with both.

Effective Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders

The most effective form of treatment for co-occurring disorders is integrated treatment, which allows practitioners from multiple disciplines to simultaneously address the many factors involved with mental illness and substance abuse.

Because mental illness may share similar root factors with addiction, including biological causes, social and environmental influences, and psychological experiences, integrated treatment is effective for addressing the many complex components involved with co-occurring disorders.

Evidenced-based treatment for co-occurring mental and substance abuse disorders will involve collaboration across the disciplines and may include a combination of therapies, medication management, and supportive services.

This type of treatment can be offered in a variety of settings, depending on the severity of the symptoms that are presenting with the co-occurring disorders. In more acute cases, ideal treatment would occur in an inpatient or residential setting, while less severe cases can be addressed in outpatient services.

Improving Quality of Life

Stereotypes and stigmas continue to hurt those who are suffering from both mental illnesses and addiction, and many individuals dealing with co-occurring disorders may feel unsure about the help that is available to support their recovery through such a complex disease. The good news is that there are resources that can effectively help a person dealing with co-occurring disorders find healing, recovery, and improved quality of life.

Man in addiction recovery on the beachIf you or a loved one has been struggling with a mental illness alongside addiction or a substance abuse disorder, know that there is hope for your recovery. Begin by utilizing the resources available on Addiction Hope to connect with a treatment center or addiction professional that specializes in co-occurring disorders, and start your healing journey today!

Thank you to Seasons in Malibu for sponsoring this post. Seasons in Malibu is a CARF-accredited, dual-diagnosis addiction treatment center specializing in treating a wide variety of addictions, such as alcoholism, opiate addiction, cocaine addiction and prescription drug abuse.

This post contains sponsored material

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges serves where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

Crystal is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), has a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Point Loma Nazarene University and a Masters degree in Nutrition Science from the University of Saint Joseph.


[1]: National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Trends and Statistics”, https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics, Retrived December 27, 2016
[2]: Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration, “Co-Occurring Disorders”, https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring, Retrived December 27, 2016

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 24, 2017
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.