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10 facts you didn’t know about co-occurring disorders

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In the USA, nearly 6 in 10 individuals who struggle with substance use disorder also experience some other kind of mental health issue at the same time. We call these dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders and, when it comes to substance use, they’re far from uncommon.

10 Facts About Co-occuring Disorders

1. Co–occurring disorders are not a rare phenomenon; they are common.

Research by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has shown an estimated 10 million people in the United States will have a combination of at least one mental health and one substance abuse disorder in any twelve-month period. Substance use disorder is the most common and significant co-occurring disorder among adults with severe mental illnesses.

2. Co–occurring disorders come in various forms.

There isn’t a single type of co-occurring disorder. A variety of different combinations of substance abuse and mental health disorders are possible, each with a unique set of side effects that make a dual diagnosis difficult to understand and even more difficult to diagnose and treat.

There are however certain combinations which tend to be more prevalent. Depression and anxiety are the most widespread mental health disorders co-occurring with drug and alcohol use.

3. Patients tend to self-medicate using alcohol and other substances when mental health disorders occur first.

For many people mental health symptoms come first and can ignite a need to use drugs and alcohol to somehow cope with the situation. Over time, if the cycle of self-medication fails to mitigate the symptoms, it intensifies and worsens the problem, pushing the person to increase their dosage which unfortunately results in a dependency.

4. When substance use disorder occurs first, the continual use often leads to mental and emotional disorders.

Though psychiatric issues are often caused by a complex set of factors, heavy drug and/or alcohol use can increase the underlying risk for mental health disorders. In other words, it can tip you over the edge.

5. The symptoms of one disorder can aggravate the symptoms of the other disorder.

At times symptoms can overlap and even mask each other; one disorder can exacerbate and worsen the symptoms of another. In some cases, people will receive treatment for one disorder while the other disorder remains hidden and untreated.


6. Either the substance use disorder or the mental illness can develop first.

Regardless of which disorder develops first, co-occurring disorders tend to also generate overlapping illnesses (more than two) and a wide range of psycho-social issues.

7. Severe mental illness increases the likelihood of substance use disorder.

According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder have a higher risk for substance use, and protective factors usually associated with lower rates of substance use do not exist in severe mental illness.

8. Co–occurring disorders are difficult to diagnose and treat.

There’s no one size fits all treatment for co-occurring disorders. The right treatment plan and period of treatment varies depending on the types of disorders and severity; it often calls for many layers of treatment.

Most good treatment programs will involve integrated treatment. Integrated care is when practitioners combine addiction treatment and mental health care in one setting.


9. People suffering from co–occurring disorders are high risk patients.

Patients with co-occurring disorders can be considered continuously at risk of relapse. This risk can be somewhat reduced by a comprehensive integrated treatment plan and effective aftercare support.

10. There is no quick fix for co–occurring disorders.

Treatment plans for co-occurring disorders tend to be longer, but evidence has shown that longer treatment is also more effective.

If you, or someone you know, needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorders don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here for you. At Aquila Recovery we use an integrated treatment approach to treat both substance use disorder and the co-occurring disorders. Each disorder needs its own treatment plan and our one-on-one support and small groups help identify and treat patients in a holistic way.