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What is a Co-occurring Disorder and Which Ones are the Most Common?

  • Category: Mental Health
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  • Written By: Baton Rouge General
What is a Co-occurring Disorder and Which Ones are the Most Common?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time used to raise awareness of those living with mental use disorders and to help reduce the stigma that many experience. Did you know that having a mental health illness significantly increases the risk of drug and alcohol addiction? This is referred to as a co-occurring disorder- the coexistence or dual diagnosis of both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. Though the disorders can exist separately from one another, when they coexist they usually cause the symptoms of both disorders to be more intense.

Nearly 8 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. Eighteen percent of those diagnosed with a mental health disorder also have a substance use disorder, and 38% of people who have a diagnosed substance use disorder also have a mental health disorder. Not everyone with co-occurring conditions get the treatment they need to address both disorders at the same time.

Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms of substance use addiction and mental health disorders are similar. Those suffering with mental health disorders sometimes do not address their substance use because it is not believed to be relevant to their problems.

Here are five of the most common co-occurring disorders:

  1. Eating Disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are often seen in those who are treated for addiction. Drugs including stimulants and diet pills as well as alcohol are most commonly used to suppress appetite and increase confidence. These problems can also be present along with body dysmorphic disorder- when someone is excessively critical of their own appearance and obsesses over imagined flaws with their own body.
  1. Anxiety Disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is commonly diagnosed in those who experience frequent, recurring panic attacks or anxiety that leads them to rely heavily on alcohol or drugs to help reduce symptoms of sleeplessness, restlessness and functional impairment. Some may abuse prescription anxiety medication like Xanax, while others lean toward alcohol or drugs to enhance social skills or to help cope with other anxiety symptoms.
  1. Bipolar Disorder. Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder are particularly susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. This mental health disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain resulting in uncontrollable, severe episodes of depression and mania. Many who live with bipolar disorder self-medicate to reduce the severity of the episodes, which only increases the frequency and intensity of the addiction.
  1. Personality and Mood Disorders. These types of disorders including borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be characterized by several symptoms including impulsive behavior, severe mood swings and emotional imbalance. Those diagnosed with personality and mood disorders often turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for strained relationships or the inability to maintain them.
  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. People with PTSD have likely been exposed to physical, sexual or psychological abuse. Many veterans return with PTSD after enduring traumatic combat experiences. There are many symptoms that can indicate post-traumatic stress disorder, including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. Drug and alcohol addiction is highly prevalent among those suffering from PTSD as it serves as a temporary remedy for the debilitating symptoms.

Mental health and substance use disorders are most often treated separately, except when there is a dual diagnosis, at which time they are treated simultaneously by the same treatment team. This type of treatment is referred to as integrated treatment.

Integrated treatment, along with early detection, can help to stabilize the symptoms of co-occurring disorders and provide a strong foundation for lasting recovery. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, speak to your healthcare provider who can help guide you towards mental health resources that are right for you.