Alcohol and drug use can occur on their own, but they’re often associated with other addictions or mental health issues. People with a mental disorder are more likely to have issues with substance abuse compared to those without a mental health disorder. Most rehab programs also include mental health treatment, so co-occurring conditions are dealt with at the same time as the substance use disorder. Understanding the difference between dual diagnosis vs co-occurring disorders can help you anticipate the kind of treatment you can expect in a substance abuse program.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Substance abuse and mental health are often linked together, and treatment centers have begun to recognize and address this. Co-occurring disorders are simply mental health disorders that occur at the same time as an alcohol or drug addiction. Certain mental health disorders, including mood, personality disorders and anxiety disorders, are fairly common in people who are being treated for substance abuse.

Young adults in particular have a high rate of co-occurring disorders along with mental illnesses. According to, between 60% and 75% of adolescents with substance use disorders also have co-occurring mental illnesses. Some specific mental disorders that frequently occur alongside alcohol and drug abuse include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

In some cases, the symptoms of your mental health disorder and your substance abuse issue don’t always show up at the same time. You might have mood disorders that have been hidden, so you could discover new co-occurring disorders during addiction treatment. Withdrawal symptoms may also mimic or mask symptoms of an underlying mood disorder. A treatment approach that includes watching for co-occurring mental disorders can catch any potential problems before they become serious.

While all these mental health conditions can make it more difficult to treat the co-occurring substance abuse disorder, the good news is that drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs are often designed to handle mental health services along with substance abuse issues.

Addiction & Mental Health play hand-in-hand

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What Is a Dual Diagnosis?

There is a difference between dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorder. Dual Diagnosis occurs when two or more disorders are diagnosed at the same time. These could include mental health conditions but also might involve other illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer or HIV. In general, when considering a dual diagnosis vs co-occurring conditions in a rehab setting, the terms typically refer to the same situation: someone with health issues that encompass both substance abuse and mental disorders.

One thing to keep in mind is that addiction itself is considered a mental health disorder. So a dual diagnosis can include addiction plus one or more additional co-occurring conditions. You might also hear the term comorbidity during discussions about a co-occurring disorder. Comorbidity means that the diagnosed conditions are interrelated. This might mean that the mental health condition developed as a result of the drug abuse or that drug addiction developed when substance use was used as a coping mechanism for a mental disorder.

Receiving treatment for substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health problem helps ensure your long-term recovery success because all the conditions are treated at once.

mood and anxiety disorders

Why Do People Develop Co-Occurring Conditions?

Sometimes, a co-occurring disorder develops because of brain changes that happen when a person uses alcohol or drugs. In other cases, the comorbid condition exists before the substance use disorder develops.

Mental illness can cause symptoms that affect everyday life, and some people turn to drugs or alcohol to ease these symptoms. Self-medicating may temporarily make the person feel better, but it can also lead to substance abuse disorders as the person becomes unable to cope with mental health symptoms in healthier ways.

Integrated Treatment for Mental Health Disorders and Substance Abuse

When you enter a rehab program for substance abuse treatment, part of the check-in process includes assessing you for any underlying mental illnesses or issues that might affect treatment.

Treatment programs at Recovery at the Crossroads include a comprehensive assessment of co-occurring mental health issues and a personalized treatment plan that takes into account any mental health disorders that can be treated simultaneously along with the substance use disorder.

Working on both substance abuse and mental health conditions at the same time also helps reduce the risk of relapse after treatment ends. Severe mental illness can cause someone to return to substance use as a coping mechanism if the initial addiction treatment didn’t also address the mental health disorder.

What Happens During Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders?

Treatment programs for substance abuse and a co-occurring disorder can involve a combination of therapy and prescription medication. The medical director and psychiatrist lead the treatment team and work with nurses, counselors and addiction specialists on staff to develop a comprehensive treatment program. Your treatment planning team can establish benchmarks for measuring your progress, and medical professionals on the team may prescribe medicine for any serious mental illness that responds well to medication.

Recovery at the Crossroads Treatment

If you have one or more disorders that affect your substance abuse treatment, you may participate in group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy to investigate the underlying mental health condition while also developing new coping mechanisms.

While dealing with co-occurring disorders alongside substance abuse issues can be complicated, an integrated treatment approach can help with both. If you’re ready to tackle your substance abuse and mental health issues in a comfortable, supportive treatment setting, contact our drug rehab in NJ today at 856-644-6929.