How Common Are Co-occurring Disorders: Statistics

Contributor: Kelly Everson, MA, contributor for Consumer Health Digest

What is Co-occurring Disorder?

Lake sunset from wooden deckCo-occurring disorder, also known as dual diagnosis, is the state of suffering from two or more disorders at the same time. For example, a person can be addicted to drugs and also have some mental disorder as well.

This type of disorder appeared as one subject 20 years ago.

It is impossible to talk about one certain combination of disorders e.g. drug addiction and bipolar disorder at the same time. Also, one does not necessarily have to be a heavy alcoholic while experiencing severe mental issues. The intensity of one disorder is not dependant on the intensity of another. They can be severe or mild, or one may be more sever than the other.

In co-occurring disorder, both the mental issue and the substance use issue have their unique symptoms. One does not rule out the other, and also one does not necessarily cause the other.

How Mental Health Is Damaged

In most cases, when a person starts using drugs, their mental health decreases, and vice versa. When a person is suffering from some sort of mental illness issue, they tend to get addictive tendency to start abusing substances, like drugs or alcohol.

When it comes to treatment, in the past there was no joint rehabilitation and treatment of this particular disorder. People could not get treated for both types of disorder, but they would receive treatments for addiction to substance abuse only and vice versa.

That means people with substance abuse and people with mental issues were treated in different facilities with different therapeutic approaches. As a result, many patients with mental issues never received treatment for being addicted to drugs or alcohol. Accordingly, patients who were addicted to substance abuse were never treated for their mental issues as well.

Specialists in Co-occurring Disorders

Businesswoman Interviewing Male Candidate For JobNowadays, things have changed and there are a lot of specialists who treat co-occurring disorder as one domain combining strategies from the fields of psychiatry and addiction treatment can decrease the relapse rate among rehab graduates. Also, it can reduce the number of suicide attempts and foster long-term abstinence.

According to Dr. Kenneth Minkoff, one of the most appreciated people in field of co-occurring disorder, effective care for people with this disorder should contain:

  1. Accepting these patients into substance use programs, without shutting them out because of their mental illness.
  2. Giving both disorders the same level of attention.
  3. Treatment and care for the patients must be provided by experts, people who are trained to work with patients who suffer from co-occurring disorder.
  4. Treating patients with respect.

Statistics of Co-occurring Disorder

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 17.5 million people in America over the age of 18 (or 8% of the adult population) had some sort of a serious mental health disorder in the past year. Out of these 17.5 million people, 4 million struggled with a co-occurring drug or substance use.

Over the last 6 years, the percentage of people in drug rehab who were treated for substance issue, but were also diagnosed with co-occurring mental health disorder plummeted from 12% to 16%.

Among the full-time employees, about 10.6% dealt with addiction problem and 10.2% struggled with mental issue, while 2.4% were diagnosed with co-occurring bipolar disorder.

Gender Differences

Happy friends together outdoorWhen it comes to genders, employed men were twice as likely as employed women to have struggled with substance abuse in the past year (13.2% for men, and only 6.9% for women). However, employed women were twice as likely to have dealt with serious mental issues in the past year as employed men (14.2% for women, and 7.3% for men).

More than 50% of people diagnosed with co-occurring disorder did not receive any medical treatment. Out of the 3 million adults who are employed and diagnosed with co-occurring disorder, only 40% received a treatment for either of their disorders, but less than 5% received treatment for both disorders.

The Rates of Mental Health Treatment vs. Substance Abuse Treatment

Of the adults diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, 34% receive mental health treatment, 2% go to drug rehab, and 12% get help for both disorders. Men are more likely to get diagnosed with co-occurring disorder. However, percentage of women diagnosed with this disorder increased in last few years. In 1995, 28% women had co-occurring disorder. In 2001, that number jumped to 44%.

Alcohol used to be the primary substance for more than 50% patients who suffer from co-occurring disorder. The numbers are shifting, however. Now, alcohol is the main substance for 45% of above mentioned patients.

About 21% patients of co-occurring disorder are addicted to prescription drugs.

Over 50% of people diagnosed with some mental disorder are also addicted to substance abuse.

37% of people addicted to alcohol, and 53% of those who are addicted to drugs also have at least one mental disorder.


Co-occurring disorder is a serious problem. The percentage of people diagnosed with this disorder is increasing each year. Even more disturbing is the fact they do not receive quality treatments or they are not treated at all, for that matter.

About the Author:

Kelly Everson is an American author and having MA in English literature. After spending time as a writer in some of Health Industries best websites, she now works as an independent researcher and contributor for health information related website like Consumer Health Digest.

In her spare time, she does research work regarding Beauty and Women Health, Fitness and overall health issues, which acts as a fuel to her passion of writing. When she is not researching or writing, you can find Kelly staying active, whether it be practicing yoga or taking swimming classes.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What can we do as a community to improve these statistics and encourage people to seek treatment for co-occurring disorders?

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

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 21st, 2015
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