Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders among Substance Addicts

An informative guest post on mental health and addiction.

By: Trey Dyer

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Image courtesy of stockimages at

Co-occurring disorders, the manifestation of a substance use disorder and mental illness simultaneously, are common among those struggling with addiction. Nearly six out of 10 people who have a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental illness. These mental illnesses come in many forms and levels of severity and include everything from simple depression or anxiety to schizophrenia or severe PTSD.

Five Frequently Co-Occurring Mental and Substance Use Disorders

1. Personality Disorders– Individuals with personality disorders often have high rates of substance addiction, as well as other mental disorders. There are three subtypes of personality disorders: Cluster A, Cluster B and Cluster C. Cluster A personality disorders include paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal disorders. Cluster B includes antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic disorders. And cluster C includes avoidant, dependent and obsessive compulsive disorders. Individuals with cluster C and cluster B personality disorders see the highest rates of substance use disorders, and individuals with antisocial personality disorder have the highest rate of substance addiction (82 percent). Individuals with cluster A personality disorders often struggle with hallucinogens and marijuana abuse. Because of the complexity of personality disorders and the often overlapping symptoms of multiple disorders, co-occurring personality disorders and substance use disorders are unique to each individual and must be treated based on an individual’s specific needs.

2. ADHD– Roughly 25 percent of adults who are treated for substance abuse also have ADHD, and an estimated 15 to 25 percent of adults who have substance abuse disorders also have ADHD. Over 20 percent of those with ADHD have a history of substance abuse. Additionally, people with ADHD are two to three times more likely to develop a substance addiction than those who do not. People with ADHD often use substances as a way to create stimuli to preoccupy their hyperactive minds or to replace a deficit of dopamine in their brains. Alcohol and marijuana are commonly abused by people with ADHD, but addictions to different substances and multiple substances are also common.

3. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder– Nearly one out of three individuals seeking substance abuse treatment suffers from PTSD. Additionally, about 45 percent of individuals with PTSD also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. Alcohol is the most widely abused substance among individuals with co-occurring substance use disorders and PTSD and is extremely common among military veterans and personnel.

4. Anxiety– One of the most commonly occurring disorders, anxiety is often accompanied by substance abuse. Almost 20 percent of individuals with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. Individuals with anxiety disorders often use substances as a way to self-medicate and alleviate their symptoms of anxiety.

5. Depression- About 121 million people suffer from some form of depression worldwide. In the U.S., depression affects nearly 14.8 million adults and is the leading cause of disability among people who are 15 to 44. Additionally 21 percent of individuals with depression have a co-occurring substance use disorder. As with other co-occurring mental illnesses, individuals use substances to relieve themselves of the symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with co-occurring disorders almost never exhibit symptoms mirroring the clinical definitions of their disorders because of the often overlapping multitude of symptoms caused by the co-occurring disorders. Recognizing and diagnosing the existence of co-occurring disorders in an individual can be extremely difficult; however, there are signs that can indicate the existence of co-occurring disorders. Some of these signs include:

• Employment or housing instability

• Difficulty managing money and expenses

• Legal problems or criminal activities

• Sexual deviance

• Frequent mood swings

• Self-care issues

• Social isolation

• Violent or suicidal behavior

• Cognitive impairment

If an individual is exhibiting any of these signs, it could be an indication that they are suffering from co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness. Finding the right treatment for the suffering individual could be the difference between living a healthy, productive life or a life of self-harm.

Treatment for People with Co-Occurring Disorders

Specialized treatment plans called dual recovery programs offer the best chance to reach recovery. Dual recovery programs feature integrated, simultaneous treatment for co-occurring disorders rather than treating each disorder separately. Simultaneously treating the co-occurring disorders gives individuals the greatest chances of overcoming each disorder and improving their lives.

Dual recovery programs are tailored to meet individuals’ specific needs depending on the severity and prior history of an individual’s co-occurring disorders. Each treatment plan varies from person to person, but commonly include substance detox, stabilizing an individual’s mental state, individual and group therapy, and a medication regimen. Dual recovery programs provide comprehensive and thorough measures to treat co-occurring disorders. Fortunately, many treatment centers offer dual recovery programs and may be able to help individuals uncover mental illnesses they did not realize they had.

About the Author

Trey Dyer is a writer and content creator for Using his writing and drawing from his own personal experience with drug addiction in his family, Trey hopes he can help provide the resources people struggling with drug addiction need to get clean.


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  1. Pingback: The NHS is failing people with mental health and substance use problems - A hangover free life

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