A Complete Guide to Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

While coping with an addiction or a mental health issue can be difficult, the problem is more complex when both conditions are present.

Co-occurring disorders are also often referred to as dual diagnoses. They affect up to 7.7 million adults [1]. While these conditions occur at the same time, studies show that one does not necessarily cause the other and it is difficult to determine which was present first.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, getting intensive treatment for both conditions is necessary for successful recovery.

Keep reading for your guide to co-occurring disorders and you can get the treatment that you need.

Adults with Co-Occurring Disorders

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are characterized by the presence of a mental health disorder and a substance abuse issue. The symptoms of co-occurring disorders can make it difficult to function in daily life. It is often challenging to treat one without the other.

What makes these conditions “co-occurring” is that they often exacerbate each other. Substance abuse often intensifies mental illness and vice versa.

Some common co-occurring disorders include:

These mental illnesses can develop for a variety of reasons. Common causes include emotional trauma and genetic factors. Environmental influences, chemical imbalances, instability at home can all lead to co-occurring disorders.

These mental health disorders can create a dependency on drugs as a form of self-medicating. Especially when left untreated.

What Are the Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

While mental illness and substance use each have their own set of symptoms, they can overlap. It can be difficult to diagnose someone because the symptoms are similar.

Some of the common symptoms of mental health disorders include:

While these are common in people suffering from mental health issues, there are many similarities with addiction.

Signs of substance use disorder include:
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It is easy to see that many of these symptoms are similar for both. Struggling with these conditions can make the other worse and increase the severity of the issues. It can also make it more difficult to recover.

Health professionals can make a diagnosis after a period of detox. The caring and well-trained team at Safe and Sound Treatment can help guide you through each phase of treatment, starting with detox.

The Connection Between Addiction and Mental Illness

When it comes to addiction and mental illness, there is a link. Although they seem to appear together, one does not cause the other. It can also be difficult to know which came first. 

There are several factors to consider when comparing the development of an addiction and a mental illness. There are common risk factors and one seems to exacerbate the other.

Similar Risk Factors

Many factors that lead to mental illness, also lead to substance use and addiction.

There is a genetic vulnerability that can make you predisposed to either [2]. If there are addictions or mental health issues in your family, you are more likely to develop them.

Additionally, mental issues and substance use affect the same part of the brain. This is the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, reward, decision making, and regulating emotions.

Many environmental factors can lead to both substance abuse and mental illness. Certain adverse childhood experiences can also aggravate these conditions [3]. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, violence, and emotional distress can all lead to addiction and several different mental health issues.

Mental Illness Exacerbates Addiction

For many who suffer from mental disorders, it is not uncommon to use certain substances to self-medicate. Disorders like PTSD or anxiety create symptoms that lead to psychoactive drug use.

This can lead to a cycle of addiction. As your tolerance builds, you will need to use more of any substance to maintain the same effect. Eventually, it can be difficult to relieve symptoms of mental illness.

Addiction Exacerbates Mental Illness

Likewise, addiction and substance abuse can heighten mental disorders. Substance use and mental illness affect the same parts of the brain. Thus, drug use can change brain function and lead to the development of mental illness.

Substance use can intensify the symptoms of mental illnesses such as anxiety, schizophrenia, and mood disorders.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Certain mental illnesses are common in co-occurring disorders. Underlying mental issues can create a variety of uncomfortable symptoms.

Here are some common co-occurring disorders:


Approximately 280 million people in the world suffer from depression. It is one of the most common mental health illnesses in the world [4].

Many people use substances to create feelings of pleasure when they experience a feeling of depression. These feelings are often heightened after the euphoria of the substance wears off. This can also trigger further substance abuse and create a dangerous cycle.


Anxiety can look different for many people but it is also one of the most common mental health disorders. Common symptoms include constant fear, heart palpitations, nervousness, restlessness, and trouble concentrating.

It is common for those suffering from anxiety to rely on substance abuse for relief. This creates the same vicious cycle.

Bipolar Disorder

When someone suffers from bipolar disorder, they experience episodes of mania and depression. The episodes are severe, with high energy and little sleep. This disorder is one of the most common mental health disorders associated with dual diagnosis.

It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Adding drugs or alcohol can create erratic or severe brain activity. Many of those with bipolar disorder also lose touch with reality.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder develops after someone has experienced intense trauma or a life-threatening situation. These include violent crimes, sexual assault, severe bullying, or natural disasters.

Those who suffer from PTSD often experience a variety of symptoms including flashbacks, negative feelings, difficulty sleeping, and intrusive thoughts [5]. It can be tempting to use alcohol or other drugs to lessen these uncomfortable symptoms. But, PTSD symptoms last longer with substance use.


Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that causes visual and auditory hallucinations. For those diagnosed with schizophrenia, it is difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It can be very challenging to manage this disorder, and even more so with substance abuse.

Those with schizophrenia have a distorted perception of themselves and others. They can display bizarre behaviors and potentially cause harm. With drug use, these symptoms are greatly amplified. Schizophrenic episodes can also become more frequent.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

For those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it can be difficult to focus on certain tasks. They also cannot control their impulses or reduce their hyperactivity. Many choose to use prescription drugs to function in daily life.

However, with prescription drug use, once the user builds a tolerance, the cycle of addiction can ensue.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder that creates obsessive behaviors. These include attention to detail and perfection.

Often those with OCD are fixated with a particular routine or habit that they cannot function in their lives without it. Using substances to try to control these symptoms often only intensifies and exacerbates them.

Getting Treatment for Dual Diagnoses

Treatment for dual diagnoses involves the integration of many different therapeutic modalities.

Many treatment centers offer programs that can help address both mental illness and addiction. Because these conditions share many symptoms and can often exacerbate one another, a treatment plan must help to address the issues surrounding both conditions. This is especially important for long-term results and relapse prevention.

While the treatment plan will vary depending on the severity of the addiction and mental disorder, the following therapies can be used to help treat co-occurring disorders:


The first step in treating a co-occurring disorder is detoxification. As previously mentioned, it is difficult to assess the symptoms of each condition as they can be similar. Detox is necessary to separate the addiction symptoms and get a clear diagnosis of the mental health issues.

Detox is a medically supervised process with physicians and certain medications to help with pain management and safety.

Inpatient Care

This is also known as residential treatment. There are different levels of inpatient care but a patient lives in the treatment facility for a certain period.

During their stay, they take part in different therapies, counseling, and support group sessions. The amount of time will vary depending on the severity of the addiction or mental disorder.

Quality inpatient care in Costa Mesa will allow you to get the help you need to regain control of your life.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient treatment is available for those who cannot live in a treatment facility. This treatment is usually less intensive and allows the patient to attend school or work.

Patients commit to the same services as received in residential care, and receive support from counseling. There are several different forms of outpatient care. Patients usually take on a variety of different treatments to strengthen their recovery process.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing negative beliefs, thoughts, and perspectives [6]. Harmful thoughts often create negative behavior patterns. They also create feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem.

All of these can lead to addiction and mental illness. They also create self-sabotaging behavior. CBT aims to change these patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy, realistic ones.

Safe and Sound Treatment provides CBT therapy for battling addiction and mental health issues.


Counseling can come in many different forms. It is an effective way to help deal with negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Talking to a professional can help guide you in managing your emotions and cravings.

Alcohol and drug counseling can be one on one with a therapist. It can also consist of support groups. Sharing your experience with others can be therapeutic in your recovery process. There are many different support groups for alcoholics and drug users.

Getting Treatment for Dual Diagnoses

Treating co-occurring disorders can be challenging but there is hope. With a personalized treatment plan, it is possible to recover and regain your life. The symptoms for co-occurring disorders can be similar and difficult to diagnose.

But, the right treatment plan will help to address both conditions. Get the help you need today and restore your life and your confidence.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, contact us now for a full range of treatment services. We offer services in beautiful Costa Mesa to help you relax and recover.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 02). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2019, March 16). Cognitive behavioral therapy. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/about/pac-20384610
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, April). Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/download/1155/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders-research-report.pdf
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 06). Comorbidity: Substance Use and Other Mental Disorders. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/comorbidity-substance-use-other-mental-disorders
  5. National Library of Medicine. (2021, October 14). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/posttraumaticstressdisorder.html
  6. World Health Organizations. (2021, September 13). Depression. Retrieved December 27, 2021