Co-occurring Disorder Treatment, Symptoms: The Link Between Psychiatric Disorders and Drug Overuse


Did you know that around 7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance disorders, according to a 2017 study? Out of the 20.3 million adults suffering from disorders or SUDs resulting from substance use, a whopping 37.9% also had mental illnesses. In addition, among the 42.1 million adults with mental illnesses, 18.2% of the population also had substance use disorders.

What is a co-occurring disorder? How strong is the possibility of being diagnosed with such? Who is affected? Are the people suffering from this receive co-occurring disorder treatment that they need?


Meaning of Co-Occurring Disorder

A co-occurring disorder combines two or more disorders, particularly when psychiatric disorders are related or linked to drug overuse or substance abuse. The interaction of these co-occurring disorders may result in the aggravation of either or both.

These co-occurring disorders may emerge one after the other or at the same time and may overlap. People with substance use disorders may develop one or more mental health conditions establishing a strong link between the two.

Co-Occurring Disorders Signs and Symptoms

Sometimes, there are significant overlaps between substance use disorders and mental illness symptoms, resulting in difficulty identifying and drawing the line between addiction and mental health conditions. Determining co-occurring disorders’ symptoms and making the distinction is crucial to provide the most appropriate co-occurring disorder treatment for a patient.

Although the signs and symptoms vary from person to person; generally, these signs point to the possible existence of a mental health condition in a person:

  • Difficulty in focusing and irritability – You may tend to have difficulties in thinking clearly and may be more anxious and snap or get irritated easily.
  • Changes in eating habits – A drastic loss of appetite on the one hand or excessive eating on the other, may manifest an underlying mental illness.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia – There may be changes in your sleeping habits, such as difficulty in sleeping or oversleeping for more than the reasonable number of hours.
  • Anxiety – A person may frequently feel afraid, tense, or nervous without cause.
  • Mood swings – You may experience extreme changes in emotions such as feeling too high and excited then suddenly feeling too low, uninterested, and lethargic.
  • Dropping hobbies – A person suffering from mental health illnesses may drop activities and hobbies that were once extremely stimulating. You may enjoy these activities before but tend to feel disinterested.
  • Isolation – Keeping distance from friends and family and wanting to be alone most of the time can be a sign of mental health disorder.
  • Changes in libido – Just like sleeping or eating changes, one may experience an increase or decrease in libido.
  • Hallucinations and paranoia – A person may experience delusions and a loss of touch with reality.
  • Suicidal thoughts – Images of suicide or thought of taking one’s life may continually recur  

Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

On the other hand, you may have a co-occurring disorder if one or more of the symptoms above mentioned coincides with the following signs and symptoms of SUDs:

  • Experiencing withdrawal -A person may suddenly experience withdrawal symptoms when substance use is stopped.
  • Inability to stop – Even when there is a goal to stop, it isn’t easy to end substance use.
  • Functioning only with substance – There is SUD when you experience difficulty coping or completing regular tasks without using substances. This includes tardiness and unproductivity at work or school.
  • Increased tolerance – Not getting high or intoxicated even with large consumption of a substance
  • Isolation – Keeping distance from friends and family and wanting to be alone most of the time.

Co-Occurring Disorders Signs and Symptoms

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Although co-occurring disorders happen due to both mental health illnesses and SUDs, there are more common combinations among co-occurring disorders. You might ask for an example of a co-occurring disorder; below are a few of them and what they mean.

  • Cocaine abuse and major depression – These combinations occur because of the effects of cocaine addiction on the brain. Non-addictive medication is a treatment for anxiety and depression. Addiction to cocaine leads to hallucinations, delusion, suicidal thoughts, and major depression.
  • Panic disorder with alcohol addiction – Alcohol is usually aimed at reducing anxiety. Studies suggest that people seeking to treat alcohol dependence often experience panic disorders. Consequently, people seeking panic disorder treatments have a history of alcohol abuse.
  • Schizophrenia and drug obsession followed by alcoholism – Substance and alcohol abuse has been prevalent among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Episodes of psychosis in schizophrenic patients may have a connection with substance use.

Previously, co-occurring disorders were termed “dual diagnosis.” What is the difference between dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders? The former term is flawed because it creates a limitation of having two conditions only when, in fact, there are some instances that more than two disorders interact.

The Link Between Psychiatric Disorders and Drug Overuse

Co-occurring diseases may occur one after the other and may overlap. Certain drugs and substances, when abused, may lead to addiction and create symptoms of mental illnesses. While people experiencing mental health disorders may turn to self-medication and use drugs and alcohol, leading to SUDs.

Studies show that SUDs co-occur with panic and anxiety disorders and people with schizophrenia also tend to have histories of substance use. In addition, patients with bipolar disorder and depression may experience high prevalence of co-occurring SUDs.

co occurring disorder treatment

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment

Overlaps between SUDs and mental illnesses are common. This is why it is imperative to conduct a mental health assessment while drugs and other substances are not present in a person’s system.

When providing co-occurring disorder treatments, address both disorders with the help of both medical and therapeutic interventions. Treat symptoms of mental health disorders without drug abuse or alcohol consumption. Integrated treatment ensures that symptoms are not worsened, such as when there is an untreated psychiatric disorder. An individual may also have the feeling of wanting to get drunk or high.

Unfortunately, not everyone with this disorder receives the treatment they need. More than half of people diagnosed received neither treatment, and only a third received mental health care only. A comprehensive treatment approach will ensure that both disorders are addressed simultaneously, and research shows that people who undergo these types of treatment are more likely to have reduced symptoms and live better lives.

A co-occurring disorder is a type of illness when a person experiences two or more disorders simultaneously. The most common of which are psychiatric or mental health disorders co-occurring with substance use disorders or SUDs. Millions of people suffer from co-occurring disorders. However, only a few receive a comprehensive treatment approach that is the best approach to address the problem.

It is crucial to identify the root cause of one’s co-occurring disorder in order to provide the best integrated treatment. Call us at 562-263-4733 or visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807. 

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