Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Disorders Statistics  

Without question, living with either substance abuse disorder or mental illness is challenging. However, for many people, these conditions develop together in such a deeply intertwined way that it can be difficult to determine which issue is causing symptoms. Co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness can be notoriously more complex than an isolated issue.

Mental disorders statistics show just how common co-occurring disorders truly are. However, many people with addiction and mental health conditions do not get the right levels of treatment. Below is a comprehensive look at co-occurring disorders, signs, and symptoms, as well as how dual conditions are diagnosed and treated.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders, and What Causes Them?

Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, refer to the presence of both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder in an individual. Symptoms of co-occurring disorders can vary widely depending on the specific combination of conditions.

While all types of addiction and mental illness have the potential to occur together, some disorders are most likely to occur together. A few examples of co-occurring disorders include:

  • Alcohol addiction and depression
  • Opiate addiction and anxiety
  • Methamphetamine addiction and schizophrenia
  • Prescription drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Co-occurring disorders can be caused by a complex interplay of various factors, and the exact cause may vary from person to person. In a lot of cases, one condition manifests first, and if that condition goes untreated, a second condition develops. For instance, a person who abuses stimulants for a long time may develop issues with depression.

It is also important to note, however, it is not always clear which condition developed first. Many enter inpatient mental health treatment centers with no clear indication of whether the addiction or mental illness occurred first.

How Common Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders are extremely common. Statistics highlight just how many individuals there are grappling with both conditions, and there are many others who go undiagnosed.

Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Disorder Statistics

In 2022, more than 13 percent of young adults aged 18 to 25 experienced a combination of addiction and mental illness. Furthermore, the broader scope of the issue is evident as nearly one in three adults faced either a mental illness or a substance abuse disorder during the same period.

Some mental health disorders are most likely to present with co-occurring substance abuse. Notably, research indicates that a quarter of individuals dealing with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression simultaneously struggle with substance abuse issues.

These statistics underscore the intricate relationship between mental health and addiction. Therefore, the need for comprehensive and tailored approaches to address these intertwined challenges is important.

What Are the Symptoms of Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders?

All people who have co-occurring addiction and mental illness can have a unique set of symptoms. Likewise, risk factors are not as straightforward as they can be for only one condition. Nevertheless, there are some general symptoms and risk factors to consider. Here are general symptoms associated with co-occurring disorders, the risk factors, and how to recognize someone who has a co-occurring condition.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

If you are the one struggling with both substance abuse and mental illness, symptoms may not be immediately discernible. You may suspect your symptoms are associated with only one condition or the other. As noted, symptoms with a dual diagnosis can vary, but a few common signs include:

  • Intertwined Symptoms: The symptoms of the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder often intermingle. It can be challenging to distinguish one from the other.
  • Self-Medicating: Individuals who self-medicate for mental health symptoms commonly turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. You may notice that you are drinking more often or using substances as a way to cope with certain emotions.
  • Worsening Conditions: The presence of one disorder can worsen the symptoms and progression of the other. Substance abuse might amplify the severity of mental health symptoms and vice versa.
  • Impaired Functioning: Individuals with co-occurring disorders may experience significant impairment in various aspects of life, including work, relationships, and daily functioning. You may deal with problems in your relationships or even find it harder to keep a job.
  • Increased Risk Behaviors: There may be an increase in risky behaviors. Self-harm, suicidal tendencies, or engaging in dangerous activities are common with co-occurring disorders.
  • Chronic Relapse: Individuals with co-occurring disorders may be more prone to chronic relapse, as the underlying mental health issues can contribute to the cycle of addiction. You may find yourself reaching for substances no matter how many times you resolve to stop.
  • Treatment Resistance: Traditional treatments for either substance use or mental health disorders may be less effective if both conditions are not addressed concurrently. Maybe you have tried SUD treatment multiple times without success, for instance.

Risk Factors of Co-Occurring Disorders

Several contributing factors increase the risk of developing co-occurring disorders:

  • Genetic Predisposition: A genetic predisposition to mental health disorders or SUDs can increase the likelihood of developing co-occurring disorders.
  • Brain Chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers in the brain, can contribute to both mental health disorders and substance abuse. Substance use can further disrupt the delicate balance.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to trauma, abuse, or chronic stress can contribute to the development of both mental health disorders and substance abuse.
  • Early Exposure to Substance Use: Substance use at an early age can increase the risk of developing addiction and may also contribute to the onset of mental health disorders.
  • Lack of Social Support: Limited social support or a lack of a strong social network can contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, or anxiety, increasing the likelihood of turning to substances for relief.
  • Stigma and Self-Medication: Stigma surrounding mental health may discourage individuals from seeking proper treatment. This may lead them to self-medicate with substances as a coping mechanism.

Signs a Loved One Has a Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issue

If you suspect a loved one is dealing with both substance abuse and mental illness, pay close attention. The individual can be at extreme risk due to the combination of symptoms. While you may not know what is taking place in their thought processes internally, outwardly, there will be recognizable signs, such as:

  • Erratic Behavior: Erratic behavior can be common with co-occurring disorders. This may include periods of intense energy, reckless behaviors, or even severe depression.
  • Social Withdrawal: Those with co-occurring disorders commonly withdraw from family and friends. As their focus is absorbed by seeking substances and dealing with symptoms, the individual may be less and less involved.
  • Personality Changes: Watch for intense personality changes. The once easygoing individual may become easily agitated. Or, you may notice intense mood changes or changes in temperament.
  • Self-Medicating: If you notice them drinking or using drugs to overcome emotions, a co-occurring disorder could be present.

How Do You Diagnose Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders?

When an individual experiences both a substance use disorder and another mental health condition, simultaneous treatment is important. Treating the disorders separately does not address how each condition affects or exacerbates the other. Therefore, seeking assistance for both disorders from a mental health rehab provider experienced with a dual diagnosis is crucial.

Diagnosing accurately can be challenging due to overlapping symptoms of the conditions. In other words, the symptoms of anxiety or depression can manifest in some of the same ways as symptoms associated with substance abuse disorder.

Due to this fact, the use of comprehensive assessment tools to minimize the risk of overlooking a diagnosis is vital. Otherwise, ensuring the individual gets the appropriate treatment is not possible. The most important first step to obtaining a diagnosis is a thorough psychiatric rehabilitation assessment that takes into consideration:

  • The types of substances used and addiction assessment
  • The full extent of symptoms, behaviors, thought processes, and more
  • The individual's history of substance use and mental illness
  • The individual's family and personal history that could contribute to mental illness

Oftentimes, people are not aware that they have more than one condition. For instance, they may seek treatment at mental rehabilitation centers for depression. However, during treatment, they recognize their self-medicating tendencies with alcohol have led to substance reliance.

How Do You Treat Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders?

Treating co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders requires building an individually tailored plan. This plan may include many elements, and each person's path to recovery can be unique. Take a look at some of the components that may be involved in a treatment plan for co-occurring mental health disorders.

Behavioral Therapy

Numerous types of behavioral therapy can be beneficial for co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. So much so that some type of behavioral therapy is often considered a core component in mental health and substance abuse treatment. Behavioral therapies can be recommended alone, but they are most often used in conjunction with other levels of treatment, such as medication. The most common types of behavioral therapy used during treatment in an inpatient mental health facility for adults include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - Focuses on patterns of thought and how they are connected to patterns of behavior and mood
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) - Focuses on core mindfulness, regulating emotions, and tolerating stress
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - Focuses on enhanced psychological flexibility through acceptance strategies and mindfulness

Medication Therapy

Depending on the individual's needs and specific history and conditions, medications may be prescribed to manage one or both conditions. For example, medications to deter the symptoms of withdrawal from substances may be prescribed, as well as antidepressants to manage the symptoms of depression.

Some medications may even offer some level of support for both occurring conditions. For instance, some medications for withdrawal symptom management may also be helpful for symptoms of anxiety.

Group Therapy

In addition to behavioral therapy, other forms of group therapy are commonly recommended. These more socially-centered therapeutic approaches can be exceptionally beneficial for those with co-occurring addiction and mental illness.

This may include group therapy with your peers who are in a treatment program with you. Group therapy can support the development of interpersonal skills, coping strategies, and the promotion of a social support network. Additionally, something like family therapy to work on family interactions and the primary social support system can be helpful.

Alternative Therapies

When you seek treatment at one of the best inpatient mental health treatment centers, they will build a tailored plan of treatment that could include numerous types of therapy. However, therapeutic offerings can range from one place to the next. Some places do offer alternative therapies that can be valuable during recovery from a co-occurring disorder, such as:

  • Experiential Therapy - Recreational, expressive, or even animal-assisted therapies like outdoor adventures or horseback riding focused on building skills and boosting confidence
  • NAD-IV Therapy - Intravenous Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) therapy to deter symptoms of addiction and mental illness
  • Belief Restructuring Therapy - Focuses on self-awareness and perceptions and overcoming unhealthy belief systems

At Pathways, we pull together a full collection of therapeutic approaches to treat co-occurring disorders. Each option is considered as we build your recovery plan, from core elements like CBT and DBT to alternative options. If you are interested in learning about our programs, be sure to reach out to talk.

Take a Step Toward Your Path to Recovery

Navigating addiction and mental health symptoms may seem overwhelming, but the right treatment plan is a beacon of hope. Taking that crucial first step toward recovery involves finding the optimal program or residential mental health facility for adults.

At Pathways, our dedicated approach involves comprehensive treatment, science-backed methodologies, and sincere compassion. With programs ranging from outpatient options to inpatient and sober living, we help you find the program most suitable for your needs. Our long-term residential mental health facilities are known to be some of the most appreciated in the state.

Ready to embark on your journey to recovery? Let's start a conversation about your next crucial step. 

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