Treating Alcoholism and Co-Occurring Disorders

Treating Alcoholism and Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol that, for many people, develops as a way to cope with a co-occurring mental disorder. Co-occurring disorders are very common among alcoholics; in fact, as many as 50 to 75 percent of people in addiction treatment also suffer from a psychiatric disorder. These co-occurring disorders complicate the challenges in overcoming addiction, and recovery is nearly impossible unless both the alcohol addiction and the co-occurring disorder are treated together at the same time.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders and Alcoholism

There are many types of co-occurring disorders seen in people who abuse alcohol. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders are:

* Major Depression
* Dysthymia
* Bipolar Disorder
* Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
* Panic Disorder
* Social Anxiety
* Generalized Anxiety Disorder
* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
* Schizophrenia

Many times, a person will use alcohol to numb the painful and difficult symptoms of an already existing mental health issue. Other times, mental health issues will arise as a result of excessive drinking. Whatever the case may be, alcoholism increases the severity of mental health issues, and mental health issues increase the severity of alcoholism.

Identifying a co-occurring disorder in someone who is addicted to alcohol can be very difficult because many of the primary symptoms of mental health issues mimic the mental effects of alcoholism. These symptoms include:

* Major depression. Drinking may provide a temporary escape from major depression, but prolonged drinking can actually bring on or worsen feelings of depression.

* Dysthymia. Alcoholism can lead to dysthymia, a disorder less severe than major depression but one that causes many of the same symptoms: fatigue, low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, unusual eating or sleeping habits, and a persistently depressed mood.

* Anxiety. Alcohol aggravates feelings of anxiety, including restlessness, nightmares, general discontent and general feelings of anxiety.

* Personality changes. Alcohol abuse can cause big changes in your personality, including mood swings, aggression and out-of-control emotions.

* Compulsive behavior. Anxiety disorders often bring about compulsive or obsessive behaviors as a way to relieve the stress the anxiety is causing. Alcoholism compounds these compulsive behaviors because alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol, and just like any addiction, it causes the individual to become obsessed with alcohol and compulsively seek it out.

Getting Help for Alcoholism and Co-Occurring Disorders

People who have co-existing alcoholism and mental health issues must overcome a number of hurdles on their way to recovery: multiple health and social problems, double the stigma, a poor response to traditional treatments, a lack of joint treatment options, and a chronic cycle of treatment entry and re-entry.

Without comprehensive treatment, a person suffering from co-occurring disorders will inevitably continue the vicious cycle of self-medicating their mental illness symptoms through alcohol use. If you know someone who is suffering from alcoholism and a co-occurring disorder, encourage them to seek treatment at an alcohol rehab that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. 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.

Call a dual diagnosis rehab center today and end the vicious cycle of using alcohol to cope with mental health issues.


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.