Tue. May 24th, 2022

Co-Occurring Disorders: Addiction & Mental Health


Co-Occurring Disorders & Dual Diagnosis

Although substance abuse may seem to be a standalone disorder, it often accompanies another mental illness. Almost 8 million adults a year struggle with co-occurring disorders, increasing the need for more comprehensive treatment plans. Decades ago, sequential treatment (treating each disorder at different points) was the norm.  However, high rates of relapse proved therapists needed a different approach.  Northeast Addictions Treatment Center (NEATC) recognizes the seriousness of dual diagnosis, and provides an integrated plan to address addiction treatment with other mental health conditions simultaneously.


Warning Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders

It’s sometimes difficult to recognize the distinction between addiction and mental illness. Although many of the symptoms mimic each other, the following may indicate the presence of co-occurring disorders:

  • Paranoia
  • Confusion, memory loss, cognitive impairment
  • Noticeable changes in eating, sleeping, and sexual habits
  • Extreme mood swings, i.e, greatly fluctuating between periods of happiness, anger, and/or depression
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Family history of addiction and mental illness


It may be more difficult to diagnose co-occurring disorders in teenagers, since mood swings are typical during the adolescent years. In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, watch for the following:

  • Increased anxiety and stress
  • Outbursts and emotional states exceeding what’s typical for the age
  • Avoiding people and events, and withdrawing from social situations
  • Changes in school attendance and performance
  • Petty crime


Individual Care for Dual Diagnosis

Co-occurring disorders can develop in any combination, and under a variety of circumstances. A person suffering from depression or chronic insomnia may take cocaine to boost lagging energy, or someone may drink excessively to combat PTSD. Genetic predisposition, trauma, prescriptions, and peer pressure can contribute to self-medicating, or turning to drugs or alcohol, without being aware of another existing condition. One common factor though, is that the underlying mental health issuehas interfered with life, affecting personal and professional relationships, and impacting health, safety, and perhaps even the ability to maintain housing.


Just as there is no singular representation of co-occurring disorders, there is also no uniform, one-size-fits-all treatment plan. It is a series of counseling, educational programs, and strategies individually tailored for each specific disorder. Depending upon the severity of the addiction and underlying illnesses, options may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Focus on understanding the illnesses, and developing ways to deal with trigger factors. This may also include Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which helps instill strength and confidence to accept change, build coping strategies, and take control of stressful situations.
  • Expressive Arts Therapy: Teaches patients to tap into their creativity and channel emotions into art forms, rather than alcohol, drugs, and other means of self-harm
  • 12-Step Program: group support that teaches acceptance and coping mechanisms, with or without a spiritual or religious component


Increasing Awareness for Dual Diagnosis

In addition to diagnosing patients who have a support system of friends and family, it’s important to recognize the prevalence of co-occurring disorders in underrepresented groups. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that co-morbidity affects almost 50% of the incarcerated population.


Not every incident of alcohol or drug abuse involves another disorder, nor does every patient with borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, or other illness have an addiction. But if an addict is presumed to only have one illness without further assessment, it may fail to create a successful rehabilitation.


Dual diagnosis and ensuing integrated plans, relapse prevention strategies, and supportive aftercare are also extremely necessary for anyone who stands to lose their employment or housing due to substance abuse. The overlapping of mental illnesses and addictions can undermine employment and financial stability, which can produce a cycle of homelessness.


Whether mental or emotional illness surfaced before or after substance abuse, NEATC’s focus in dual diagnosis means that we have the staff, programs, and counseling necessary to effectively treat co-occurring disorders.




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