Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction is bad enough on its own. When you combine addiction with another mental health disorder, recovery can be a nightmare. Unfortunately, most people with addictions to drugs and alcohol also suffer from other mental health disorders. By understanding and addressing these co-occurring disorders, healthcare providers can treat addiction more effectively.
Co-Occurring Disorders | Mental Health Treatment

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are two or more illnesses that people tend to get at the same time. Those with a diabetes diagnosis, for example, often also have heart disease. Because this dual diagnosis is so common, doctors consider heart disease and diabetes to be co-occurring illnesses. In the case of addiction, substance abuse usually occurs in conjunction with a mental health issue, such as depression. Treating the two conditions separately is not nearly as effective as treating them as one complex dual diagnosis.

As stated, addiction occurs along with many other disorders. Depending on the addiction, individuals may also have:

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Those with antisocial personality disorder tend to ignore or violate other people’s rights and needs. Alcoholics are 21 times more likely to have this issue than non-alcoholics.

Anxiety Disorder

Cocaine use and anxiety disorder often occur together and have similar symptoms. These include trouble sleeping, irritability, paranoia, and violent thoughts and urges.


Those who use heroin and other opioids frequently suffer from clinical depression. This disorder can present with different symptoms, including sadness, tiredness, trouble sleeping, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Also known as PTSD, this disease is common among people who have suffered violent or traumatic experiences. The physical effects of those experiences may cause them to feel chronic pain, for which their doctors prescribe opioids. Many then develop a dependence on those opioids and have to deal with both PTSD and addiction.

Co-occurring issues are common among those dealing with addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, three out of five substance abusers also have a separate mental disorder. We cannot fully understand addiction unless we first understand a person’s full diagnosis.

Why Are Co-Occurring Illnesses So Common?

There are many reasons why certain mental health issues commonly accompany addiction. A disorder may be:

The Root Cause

The patient may begin abusing drugs as a way to treat an existing illness. This makes dependence particularly likely. Not only are the drugs addictive, but if the patient stops taking them, they will face the original issue unaided.

A Direct Effect

Drug abuse and addiction may cause the patient to develop a co-occurring disorder in the first place. Those who use opioids for a long time, for example, often cannot feel pleasure unless they take the drug. In this way, heroin and other opioids cause depression.

A Separate Effect

The addiction and the co-occurring disorder may both be effects of some other cause. PTSD and opioid use, for example, are both effects of traumatic injuries.

Tangled Up with Addiction

Addiction and co-occurring disorders may both contribute to each other. Those with antisocial personality disorder, for example, may be more likely to abuse alcohol. In turn, alcohol abuse may make the disorder worse, as it makes users less likely to control their antisocial behaviors. This creates a downward spiral that leads to tragic outcomes unless professional treatment is sought.

Why Is It Important to Understand Co-Occurring Illnesses?

For drug and alcohol rehab centers to treat patients effectively, they must fully understand addiction’s causes and effects. Since co-occurring illnesses can be both causes and effects, understanding them is especially important.

If a co-occurring illness caused the addiction, treating it must be a central part of treating the addiction itself. Otherwise, patients may start taking the drug again for the same reason they began using it in the first place.

Even if the disorder didn’t cause the addiction, it would likely cause patients distress and discomfort during treatment. The more relaxed and comfortable a patient is, the more likely treatment is to succeed. Drug and alcohol rehab facilities can improve patient outcomes by addressing these disorders.

Reach Out to San Antonio Recovery Center

If you or a loved one in the San Antonio, Texas area are suffering from addiction, help is available. Our trained, professional staff will use an integrated therapeutic approach to treat your dual diagnosis. For more information on drug and alcohol addiction, contact San Antonio Recovery Center today at 866.957.7885.

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