A “co-occurring disorder” is the clinical term for having a psychiatric disorder as well as a problem with drugs or alcohol. Another popular term is “dual diagnosis,” meaning that you’ve been diagnosed with a condition like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder along with a substance abuse disorder. No matter how you refer to a co-occurring disorder, dealing with addiction and any other condition demands a specialized approach to treatment.
What Do the Statistics Say?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the rate of substance abuse among people who have a co-occurring disorder may be as high as 50 percent. Most of the people who fall into this group are males between the ages of 18 and 44, but a dual diagnosis can affect people of all age groups, including younger teens and older adults. The most commonly abused drugs among the dually diagnosed include:
The Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a large study of the relationship between addiction and mental illness. Over 20,000 people in the general US population and the institutional community were interviewed to find out about their history of substance abuse and mental illness. The study revealed that:
- The prevalence of substance abuse in the general population was 13.5 percent for alcoholism and 6.1 percent for addiction to other drugs.
- The prevalence of substance abuse among people with a mental health diagnosis was 22 percent for alcohol abuse and 15 percent for addiction to another drug.
- Among people who suffered from alcoholism, 37 percent had a mental health disorder.
- Among people who suffered from dependence on a drug other than alcohol, the rate of mental illness was 53 percent.
Some of the most common mental disorders that occur with substance abuse include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders (panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorders, social phobia, etc.), antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
What Makes Co-Occurring Disorders So Common?
Addiction experts don’t know for sure why the incidence of substance abuse is so high among people with a mental health disorder. There are a number of reasons why co-occurring disorders may be so prevalent:
- Both substance abuse and mental illness may arise from similar abnormalities in brain chemistry.
- The symptoms of mental illness may drive people to use alcohol or drugs in order to relieve overwhelming emotions or stabilize their moods.
- Mental illness may lead to chronic unemployment and difficulty forming relationships, increasing the risk of social isolation and substance abuse.
- Chronic substance abuse may cause changes in mood or brain activity that resemble the symptoms of mental illness.
Is a Co-Occurring Disorder a Barrier to Recovery?
In some ways, a co-occurring disorder can be a hurdle to recovery. But once you’ve confirmed that there’s a reason for your depression, worry or emotional instability, you might find that it’s actually easier to address your drinking or drug use. A treatment program for co-occurring disorders might include:
- Simultaneous therapy for your substance abuse and your psychiatric condition
- Peer support groups that are dedicated to helping their members meet the challenges of a co-occurring disorder
- Medication therapy to reduce drug or alcohol cravings and to address symptoms like depression, anxiety or mood swings
- Holistic therapies like acupuncture or massage to help you manage cravings and achieve inner balance
By entering a rehab facility that specializes in treating co-occurring disorders, you can find treatment that’s tailored to your specific needs. Contact Alta Mira’s admissions team to find out about treatment programs that target both substance abuse and mental illness.