What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

The simultaneous existence of both a mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD) is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Over 9.2 million American adults have co-occurring disorders. Facing SUD can be extremely difficult not only for the individual but also for their family members.

People who have SUD are more at risk for developing a mental illness. Similarly, people who have a mental illness are also more likely to develop SUD.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

Per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), SUD is recognized as a mental disorder. They describe it as “affecting a person’s brain and behavior, leading to a person’s inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.” There are two categories of substance use-related mental health conditions:

  • Substance use disorders: A recurring pattern of symptoms resulting from the continuous use of substances
  • Substance-induced disorders: Psychiatric changes produced by substance use or withdrawal that resemble independent disorders (depression, psychosis, anxiety, or neurocognitive disorders)

While co-occurring disorders are common, it isn’t always the case that SUD causes another mental health disorder or vice versa. According to the NIMH, there are three possibilities that explain the co-existence of SUD and other mental health conditions.

  • Genetics can play a significant role in co-occurring disorders. Additionally, environmental factors like stress or trauma can alter the genetic makeup and increase the likelihood of future hereditary mental health disorders.
  • Preexisting mental health disorders can lead to the use of substances as a means to self-medicate. This can ultimately result in SUD.
  • SUD can also lead to other mental health disorders by triggering changes in brain structure and function.

What Mental Health Disorders Co-Occur With SUD?

Developing a co-occurring disorder from SUD or vice versa is not a guarantee, though it is common. There are several mental health conditions that often co-occur with SUD. Some of the most common are as follows:

Anxiety Disorders

These can be associated with stimulant drugs like cocaine and amphetamines. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and others. The general symptoms of anxiety can include restlessness, irritability, various aches/pains, and consistent worry. Antianxiety prescriptions and/or therapy are common treatments for any anxiety disorder.


This has been associated with opioids, alcohol, sedatives, anxiolytics, hypnotics, and cannabis. Additionally, depression is associated with withdrawal from stimulants. Symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts or attempts, disturbances in sleep, and many other effects. Antidepressants and/or therapy are effective in treatment.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Symptoms of ADHD include the inability to sit still, excessive talking, constant fidgeting or movement, and impulsive behavior in addition to other effects. ADHD Treatment in Irvine and any other of our Locations in California is most commonly achieved through medication which comes in both stimulant and non-stimulant options.

Bipolar Disorder

There are three recognized variations of bipolar disorder. These are bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia. When a person displays the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but their patterns do not meet the criteria for the previous three disorders, it is called “unspecified/other specified bipolar disorder.” General symptoms include recurring patterns of depressive episodes paired with mania or hypomania. Treatment usually involves a combination of therapy and medication in the form of mood stabilizers.

Personality Disorder

Symptoms can include mood swings, uncertainty in self-perception, impulsive and/or dangerous behavior, feeling empty inside, and can even result in dissociation. Treatment comes in the form of therapy as there are no known medications that have been proven to treat this disorder. Therapy is often used as part of a residential program and generally includes cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Psychosis (Schizophrenia)

This can be associated with a variety of different substances but varies with each person and circumstance. Symptoms can include a lost touch with reality, hallucinations, delusions, and other effects. Medication and therapy have been found to be very effective in treating this disorder.

When Should I Seek Treatment for My Co-Occurring Disorder?

Reaching out for help is a courageous step to be extremely proud of. Facing any of the aforementioned mental health conditions can be challenging. Many of the disorders listed can even worsen when left untreated. Whether an individual’s condition is treated with therapy, medication, or both, they are in control of the choices they make today, and those decisions can greatly improve their tomorrow.

By reaching out now for a proper diagnosis, anyone can overcome their ailment and achieve a future that is free of the difficult challenges they currently face. Beginning treatment doesn’t have to be a scary or complicated process. Overcoming a co-occurring disorder is an obtainable goal with the right treatment option for one’s specific needs. Everyone deserves a life full of happiness. That life starts by letting a trustworthy facility guide them to better mental health and recovery.

Co-occurring disorders are not just hard on your mental health. The stresses from conditions like depression, anxiety, or other disorders can even affect your physical health. You don’t have to keep fighting this fight alone. At Alter Behavioral Health, we can help you not only be the victor now but ultimately overcome your SUD and co-occurring disorders. You may not feel like you are worth it but you are. You and your health matter to us. Helping you get back on top and achieve true happiness is our goal and our mission. You deserve the best and we can help you reach just that. Call us today at (866) 691-4386 for more information and to get started.