Co-Occurring Disorders: Symptoms, Treatment and Recovery

For many people, substance abuse develops as a way to cope with a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders are any mental health issue that co-exists with a substance abuse problem. Statistics show that nearly half of all people with a severe mental disorder are affected by substance abuse, and 29 percent of all people diagnosed as mentally ill abuse either alcohol or drugs. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, mental health issues can be painful and difficult to cope with, which is why many people with mental health problems use substances to feel better. Using drugs or alcohol can provide a temporary escape and temporarily numb their symptoms, but it does not solve the underlying problem. Unfortunately, this escape is only temporary and the mental health symptoms will inevitably worsen over time as a result of the alcohol or drug use.

Co-occurring disorders fall into two main categories: those that develop before drug or alcohol use, and those that develop after excessive drug or alcohol use. Whether the person has a mental health disorder or a substance-induced disorder doesn’t matter; both the substance abuse problem and the mental health issues must be addressed during treatment in order for the person to maintain recovery from both disorders.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders and their Symptoms

Co-occurring disorders are sometimes overlooked among individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol because many of the symptoms of mental disorders mimic the symptoms of substance abuse. These symptoms include depression, anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, mania and violent behavior.

Some common co-occurring disorders found among individuals in substance abuse treatment are:

Mood-Related Disorders
Major Depression
Bipolar Disorder

Anxiety-Related Disorders
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Panic Disorder
Social Anxiety
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Thought-Related Disorders
Schizoaffective Disorder

People who struggle with these disorders will find that their psychiatric problems will worsen because of drugs and alcohol and that their substance addiction will worsen because of their psychiatric problem. In other words, mental health problems make substance abuse problems worse, and vice versa.

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment and Recovery

People who struggle with co-occurring disorders often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when seeking treatment for substance abuse. If they stop using the substance, the symptoms of their mental health disorder will return or worsen. And if they don’t stop using drugs or alcohol, their addiction will continue to worsen the symptoms of their mental health issues. That’s why it’s imperative that individuals with co-occurring disorders receive addiction treatment that simultaneously addresses their mental health and addiction issues. Addiction recovery is only possible if the co-occurring mental disorder is also treated.

Without comprehensive treatment, a person suffering from co-occurring disorders will inevitably continue the vicious cycle of self-medicating their mental illness symptoms through substance abuse. If you know someone who is suffering from a co-occurring disorder, encourage them to seek treatment at a drug or alcohol rehab that specializes in co-occurring disorders. A good program will provide treatment for a wide variety of issues, including: drug and alcohol use, behavioral addictions, codependency patterns, mental health, trauma issues, eating disorders, sexual addiction, family functioning, social relationships, physical health and fitness, diet and nutrition, vocational and education needs, and legal problems.

Help end the tug of war between substance abuse and mental health issues. Call an addiction treatment facility for co-occurring disorders today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.