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Co-Occurring Disorders

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, you might also be depressed, anxious, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder or have another mental health issue that’s causing you distress and contributing to an inability to function to the best of your ability. It’s a fact that as many as six in every 10 people who abuse substances also have at least one other mental disorder. The combination of substance abuse and a mental health disorder is called co-occurring disorders.

A Look at the Numbers

Looking at specific substances, such as tobacco, and how that translates into incidences of a simultaneous mental health issue, several recent studies have shown that people with mental illnesses are about twice as likely to smoke as others. For individuals who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, a serious mental illness, the smoking rates are very high — from 75 percent to 95 percent.

Teenagers, those living with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are likely to turn to drugs and develop a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. The substances teens most often turn to include alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, club drugs, ketamine, GHB, Molly, and LSD and methamphetamine.

For instance, in 2013:

Are There Risk Factors for Co-Occurring Disorders?

While researchers are constantly working to uncover risk factors, things that contribute to the development of substance abuse and a mental health disorder that occur simultaneously, what they have found to-date is that while the reasons why aren’t fully understood, each can contribute to the development of the other. In other words, someone can smoke heavily and develop a mental health problem or vice versa.

Among young children and adolescents, those with any psychiatric conditions or illness, especially ADHD, learning disabilities and conduct disorders, are considered to be more at risk for subsequent drug or substance abuse than children and adolescents without any psychiatric conditions or illnesses.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a person may have experienced a childhood trauma and turns to drugs in an effort to cope. This may lead to an addiction to the drug or drugs.

Another person may begin using heroin and later develop PTSD from negative experiences while using the drug.

Warning Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders

Specific warning signs that may indicate co-occurring disorders depend on the substance being abused. The following signs should throw up red flags, especially among teens but also in adults:

Getting Help Is Most Important

Whether you began smoking marijuana to ease anxiety, drink because you want to numb the pain and block out recurring nightmares and negative effects of PTSD, or can’t seem to cope with intense emotional feelings so you choose to obliterate everything with a drug of choice, getting help is most important in reversing these unhealthy and possibly addictive patterns of substance abuse and getting treatment to learn how to manage your mental health conditions.

At The Right Step alcohol and drug rehab, we’re highly skilled in providing coordinated treatment that treats not just one issue such as substance abuse, but also simultaneously treats any underlying mental health disorder. Our approach is treating the whole person in a comprehensive, integrated and customized treatment plan designed to meet their needs.

This may involve the prescribing of certain medications to ease withdrawal symptoms as you detoxify from a specific drug or alcohol or to ease certain symptoms of a mental health disorder. Other types of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, often provide the basis for ongoing healing and a quicker return to your normal life.

Find hope and healing at The Right Step treatment center. Contact us for a complimentary, confidential assessment today: 844-877-1781.

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