What Are Co-Occuring Disorders?

Problems of mental health and substance abuse affect people from all backgrounds and often are found as a co-occuring discorder. Such illnesses are widespread, chronic and often serious, but they are treatable and can be recovered from. Such problems will influence how a person communicates and makes decisions. Today, we’re going to discuss what is referred to as co-occuring disorders and how they can affect a person.

What is a co-occurring disorder?

Dual diagnosis is a condition when someone develops a psychological disorder and substance abuse disorder at the same (also called co-occurring disorders). For someone suffering from this condition, it’s hard to tell which one came first, the mental illness or the substance abuse disorder. The scary thing about this is that either one can come first. A substance abuse disorder can cause mental illness or vice versa. A person with a mental illness may use substances to cope with their disability or a person may use substances that result in a mental illness.

Seriousness and intensity of either of these conditions can worsen over time if left unchecked. When compared to people with only one condition, patients with a multiple disorders may have more significant medical and mental health problems and may take longer recovery times.

Causes of a co-occurring disorder

There are many causes that can lead to mental health and drug use problems. Some people have a high genetic predisposition, while others may develop these issues because of the environment they are brought up in. Those with psychological disorders are more likely than those without to develop a substance use problem. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of people with either a mental illness or a drug use problem may suffer the other in their lifetime. The DSM-5 notes that an increased risk of substance usage, for example, may also be correlated with illnesses such as bipolar disorders, autism, and antisocial personality disorders.

Certain illnesses correlated with the drug also often arise in different psychiatric conditions. Just like with drug usage disorders and depressive disorders, it may be that an issue with the use of medication can contribute to further mental health problems, or may aggravate a prior condition.

Symptoms of a co-occurring disorder

Co-occurring disorder symptoms include the impact of certain drug abuse and/or disorders of mental health impacting a person. Individuals with coexisting illnesses face many other risks, including symptomatic repetitions, hospitalization, financial difficulties, social isolation, family issues, homelessness, sexual and physical violence, and severe medical conditions.

Most Common Disorders

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders, as true and severe as physical diseases like heart disease or diabetes, are serious medical conditions that people suffer from all over the world. In the United States, anxiety disorders number one most diagnosed mental health issue.

The word “anxiety disorder” applies to psychiatric problems causing extreme fear or distress, like pervasive anxiety disorder (WAD); depression and panic attacks; agoraphobia; social anxiety disorders; selective mutism; and phobias. 


Depression is more than a depressed or anxious sensation. This is an ongoing situation that can disrupt daily routine. Depression may become more severe if ignored and become a serious disease. This can affect work performance or school performance and social interaction/relational skills. Depression can lead to suicide in the worst circumstances. 

Depression, as a mild, yet normal mood disorder, is a severe problem, like major depression or clinical depression. It can cause serious effects that influence how a person feels, treats and conducts normal, daily activities such as sleep, food, and work. Forms of depression may occur under somewhat varying circumstances, but signs will be consistently apparent for at least two weeks in to be correctly diagnosed with depression.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a neurological disorder that causes abnormal to severe changes in mood, motivation, levels of activity, and the ability to perform daily tasks. There are four common forms of bipolar disorder, all containing consistent changes in mood, motivation, and behavior, ranging from very high to very depressed or down to desperate phases (called suicidal episodes), agitated, energized actions (known as manic episodes).

Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a syndrome that occurs in some people who suffered from a disturbing, terrifying or dangerous event. Although most people recover spontaneously from trauma responses, certain people are affected negatively by traumas and are unable to control their emotions following trauma and suffer side-effects constantly. 

Many that may have symptoms and problems are typically diagnosed for PTSD. There is a persistent (chronic) or short-term (acute) PTSD, and sometimes many who are not in danger of PTSD can feel depressed or afraid.


Schizophrenia is a recurrent and serious mental condition that affects a person’s way of thinking, behaving, and actions. It may seem that people with schizophrenia have lost contact with reality. The signs of schizophrenia usually begin between 16 and 30 years of age and fall into three categories: psychological symptoms (e.g. visions, perceptions, thinking and activity disorders), negative symptoms (e.g., flat-impact, diminished or impaired-speaking function); neurological symptoms (e.g. weak organizational performance, difficulties concentrating or treatment or work-relationship problems)

Although about half of people with schizophrenia also have a drug use problem, a strong connection or link occurs between the use of drugs or alcohol and schizophrenia.

Treatment for Co-occurring Disorder

A systematic therapeutic plan for offering appropriate treatment for co-occurring disorders is developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Integrated therapy involves the integration between substance abuse and mental health treatments rather than handling each condition individually. Integrated treatment also consists of performance counseling, including cognitive-behavioral therapy or dialectic behavioral therapy, which can enhance coping skills and minimize maladaptive behavior. According to PCS Revenue Cycle, the authority in Medical Billing, these types of therapies are covered by most private insurance companies and Medicare.

These can be used together with medications. Therapy can also include cooperation with physicians and groups which can help address employment, safety, and job problems. Psychoeducational classrooms may help increase understanding of signs of illnesses and the interaction between mental disorders and substance abuse as part of services to address co-occurring disorders. Rehabilitation may help patients understand the fact that substances are more likely to cause their mental illnesses or their mental illnesses are causing their substance abuse habits. It is important to remember that the use and misuse of substances can exacerbate mental illnesses and vice versa.