Co-Occurring Disorders

A co-occurring disorder is the presence of both mental illness and substance abuse disorder. Many times, the symptoms are amplified when both co-exist. And when that happens, a structured treatment plan that addresses both must be applied.

In 2018, 9.2 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, but only 8.3% received treatment for both illnesses. Most affected by this dual diagnosis are young adults aged 18-25, as evidenced by the rise in numbers in 2020 to 12.2%. This age represents young adults who are just getting out of school, beginning to work, or starting a family.

According to, no study can prove which comes first, the mental illness or the substance abuse. But often, a person who has a mental disorder self-medicates, resulting in substance abuse. And it could also happen that while consuming excessive substances, a person feels depressed, and this feeling is more magnified because of the effects of the substance in their body.

Mental disorders that could be present in co-occurring disorders are the following:

  • mood disorders – depression and bipolar disorder
  • anxiety disorders – obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, and PTSD
  • psychotic disorders – schizophrenia and delusional disorders
  • personality disorders – borderline personality disorder, antisocial disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder
  • eating disorders – binge-eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa

Substance use disorders may come from the excessive use of the following:

  • dangerous drugs
  • alcohol
  • nicotine
  • opioid
  • marijuana
  • stimulants
  • prescription drugs

The existence of one disorder is already a challenge in itself, but the simultaneous presence of both can have troubling effects on one’s life. But with the help of experts, one can still overcome the debilitating effects of the disease. 

Mental Disorders

To illustrate, here are the ill effects of co-occurring disorders:

1. Sudden Changes In Behavior

A once calm person can be agitated and delusional when they have a co-occurring disorder. They may at times display disorganized speech and irrational behavior too. This immediate change may not be evident to other people the patient doesn’t know well and may only be recognized after a while.

The challenge is that recognizing the symptoms might be a little late, unlike when the patient is surrounded by family who knows them very well.

2. Retreating From Relationships

Not wanting to be around family and friends could happen with co-existing disorders. People diagnosed with this illness would like to be isolated for long periods because they don’t want to be seen in that sad state and don’t want people to notice the physical and emotional changes happening to them.

When someone suffers from this illness, they tend to dwell on the negative, and even something that hurt them happened too long ago, they’d choose to wallow in it. Retreating from contact with family and friends could cause a person to have a major depressive disorder that when left untreated, could result in self-harming and suicide.

Not managing one’s feelings may result in a preference to be alone since you don’t want to be seen struggling to cope with feelings you can’t control. Often, people with this illness shun social interaction because even when they’re in the presence of others, they still feel empty and listless.

3. Engaging In Risky Behaviors

Alcohol and drug use heighten the risk of violence, unprotected sexual intercourse, and other potentially dangerous behaviors. But with co-occurring disorders, the risk may be doubled since the feeling of euphoria may find one to be unreasonable and brazen. Many people suffering from a co-occurring disorder may even taunt their safety and easily give in to provocation and worthless dares. Often, this could result in accidents and death.

4. Job Loss And Unemployment

Lacking the desire to exert effort for themselves and their family could make someone with this illness feel indisposed. Thinking that nothing could have meaning in their existence and everything is hopeless may make someone lazy and inactive.

Since there’s no desire to maintain and build social connections, many with this illness feel lethargic all the time. Sadly, they neglect what they had tried so hard to work on before being diagnosed with the disease. Meanwhile, others who haven’t even started building a career don’t even want to try with the thought that they’ll fail in the end.

5. Neglecting Health And Hygiene

People with a co-occurring disorder may find that taking care of themselves may be futile. They don’t want to aspire to be better, so they result in binge-eating that could make them morbidly obese or skip eating entirely, relying on sustenance from the substance that pollutes their mind.

They don’t crave to look suitable for other people, even themselves. Since they’ll lock themselves up in a room for days, they don’t think it’s worth the bother. Exhibiting this behavior shows neglect and a lack of regard for one’s general wellness. And for an extended period, a person may contract more diseases and conditions like malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, hepatitis, skin infections, cholera, and typhoid fever.

6. Suicide And Death

If left untreated, the end game for a co-occurring disorder is death. Since there’s no self-control and very high disregard for every result of action and inaction, a person may feel trapped.

Often, they think their life has no value, which is worsened by the excessive substance in their bodies that could increase cortisol, which further heightens stress and disrupts sleep patterns in someone with the illness.

Frequently feeling this way may trigger someone to end their life tragically to escape the trauma. But knowing that there are people in their lives who think they’re worth every trouble could appease them and make them feel valuable to take the necessary course of treatment to feel better.


One doesn’t have to hit rock bottom first to consider getting the appropriate treatment for a co-occurring disorder. Getting the best integrated care and therapy for someone with a co-occurring disorder is crucial in the onset of the illness.

Most diagnosed belong to a younger age group with enormous potential in life, and just letting their lives go to waste would be a terrible fate. If you’re suffering from this illness, know that you can always ask for help; and if your family members or friends suffer from it, give them support, be there for them, and take them to experts so they can regain control of their lives.

By Caitlyn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *