What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

When you hear of mental illness, you don’t necessarily associate it with addiction and vice versa. In today’s society, millions of people worldwide suffer from mental health disorders. They are much more common than you think. Unfortunately, just because someone suffers from a mental health disorder, doesn’t mean they are immune to addiction. All too often, a person can have a mental illness and addiction at the same time. This is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder is a term that describes any underlying mental health conditions present alongside a substance use disorder. Co-occurring disorders can look a little different for everyone, and it isn’t proven if one “causes” the other. Kind of like what came first, the chicken or the egg?

Many people abuse alcohol and drugs to cope with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health disorders. This can lead to a range of addictions, including prescription drug addiction, marijuana addiction, opioid abuse, and more. Others experience mental health issues after developing a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders in Addiction

Several underlying mental disorders can prompt someone to start abusing alcohol and drugs. One reason is they might use substances to cope with feelings and emotions such as guilt, anxiety, pain, and shame.

While some co-occurring disorders are more prevalent than others, every disorder should be treated as soon as possible. Some common co-occurring disorders we see in addiction treatment include:


Depression is a condition that affects millions of people, regardless of age, gender, race, etc. Many abuse drugs and alcohol to cope with emotional feelings and even excitement.

However, these substances can cause substance-induced depression as soon as the initial excitement wears off. This then triggers the need for increased use of drugs or alcohol, especially if the user wants to experience the euphoria to suppress any negative emotion. A dangerous cycle of depression followed by an intense addiction and vice versa can potentially follow.

Anxiety Disorders

Experiencing some form of acute anxiety is a normal, healthy part of being human. But for some people, the anxiety can begin to take over their life. They might begin to feel worried and overwhelmed about everyday activities and responsibilities. These feelings of distress can make it difficult to function, and they might begin to abuse drugs as a way of dealing with these emotions. 

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a disorder marked by extreme mood swings. Symptoms may include emotional highs (mania) or emotional lows (depression). People with this condition often abuse drugs to help alleviate the significant changes in mood.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD develops as a result of life-threatening and stressful events such as accidents, war-related experiences, natural disasters, or long-term bullying.  

To relieve the symptoms of PTSD, it’s not uncommon for someone to use alcohol or drugs. However, substance abuse can aggravate PTSD symptoms. And since the symptoms can be weakening, sufferers may continue to abuse drugs or alcohol to manage the symptoms, irrespective of the consequences.


Schizophrenia is defined by visual or auditory hallucinations. It is a condition that affects how an individual feels, thinks, and acts. 

Schizophrenic individuals often abuse drugs or alcohol to manage schizophrenic episodes and overcome hallucinations. Sadly, abusing drugs and alcohol can increase the frequency and severity of the episodes.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Dual diagnosis treatment is a highly effective treatment option for addressing co-occurring disorders and includes a combination of the following: 

  • Intensive individual therapy with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist to address the symptoms of co-occurring disorders
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches individuals how to cope with mental illnesses and raises self-awareness
  • Medication-assisted treatment can help control psychiatric symptoms and lessen the urge for alcohol or drugs
  • Group therapy helps create a sense of community and support for those battling similar disorders
  • Counseling and family education help loved ones understand the nature of the disorder
  • Holistic therapies, including yoga, meditation, recreation therapies, and creative therapies, can help encourage self-expression

Managing a co-occurring disorder can be difficult if you attempt to do it alone. If you or a loved one has a mental health condition and is abusing alcohol or drugs, it is crucial to get professional help as soon as possible. 

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment

The benefits of dual diagnosis treatment include:

  • Helps to significantly improve the quality of life
  • Addresses a variety of mental health disorders, ranging from PTSD to anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, and many others
  • Addresses substance use disorders
  • Improves overall mental health
  • Reduces the chances of relapse
  • Reduces the risk of hospitalization

Are You a Candidate?

If you are someone who struggles with a substance use disorder and has an underlying mental health disorder, you can benefit from dual diagnosis treatment. If you aren’t sure if you have a mental health condition, consider being evaluated by a licensed medical professional or addiction specialist at a treatment facility. 

Additional signs that you might have a mental health condition can include dramatic changes in mood, isolating from friends and family, feeling irritable, and difficulty managing relationships in your life. 

Get Drug and Alcohol Treatment Today

Drug and alcohol addiction treatment is available to help you overcome addiction and live a healthy, sober life. Enlight Treatment Center in Ventura, California, provides effective therapies and treatment options that enable clients to fully concentrate on solving their addiction issues and regain hope and optimism about their future. In addition to dual diagnosis treatment, we offer inpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs and medication-assisted detox.

If you or a loved one has a problem with drug abuse, our compassionate and experienced team is here to help. 

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Our admissions team is available 24/7 for those in need of treatment. Even if we are not a match for you or your loved one, we are here to help. It is a cornerstone practice of  Enlight Treatment Center to serve as a bridge between the community and treatment.