Although mental health disorders and substance use disorders are different from one another, they often coexist together. Many individuals who struggle with problems like stress or depression often resort to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. On the other hand, individuals who have drug and alcohol dependency issues can suffer from severely damaged mental health as a result of substance abuse. Some of these disorders have tendencies to occur together.
A co-occurring disorder is defined as two or more disorders that occur at the same time. Included in this grouping are dual diagnosis disorders. Dual diagnosis disorders are characterized by both a mental health disorder and substance abuse that occur simultaneously in an individual. This is a very broad category and a diagnosis can be made no matter which issue came first (the mental health disorder or the substance abuse).
Although there are many combinations of mental health disorders and substance abuse seen in dual diagnosis treatment centers, there are a handful of disorders that more commonly appear simultaneously.
Alcoholism and Antisocial Personality Disorder
About 90% of individuals with antisocial personality disorder suffer from some form of substance abuse, with alcoholism being the most frequent. Antisocial personality disorder is a condition that is characterized by a skewed way of thinking and relating to others, as well as an inability to clearly perceive situations. Individuals who suffer from this disorder often exhibit extremely abnormal and destructive behaviors, with no regard for their own safety or that of others.
A common characteristic of individuals with antisocial personality disorder is a drinking problem. This can actually intensify the symptoms of their mental illness.
Cocaine and Anxiety Disorder
Cocaine is an incredibly addictive stimulant drug that has the ability to influence the development of nearly 10 different psychiatric disorders. Cocaine has a tendency to induce paranoia in many users as well as violent behaviors. Other symptoms that cocaine users have exhibited are:
The symptoms caused by cocaine use can very closely resemble those of anxiety disorder and often lead to the development of one.
Heroin Use and Depression
Depression is a debilitating disorder that is caused by changes in the brain’s chemistry. Heroin is known for making users experience a rush of good feelings. The two disorders meet as a result of heroin’s ability to burn out areas of the brain that produce neurotransmitters that create those positive feelings. Heroin can cause depression by causing individuals to be incapable of experiencing happiness without the presence of the drug.
Opioids and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is found in individuals who have experienced a traumatic event, followed by stress reactions that continue to follow them after the fact. Intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal, avoidance, flashbacks and nightmares can all be symptoms of this disorder. All to frequently, individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder rely on the heavy use of alcohol and drugs to cope with their symptoms.
Coming from another angle, people who have abused opioids have a tendency to exhibit symptoms of PTSD. For example, those who abuse opioids come down from their high with hypervigilance and are easily startled. They also show signs of distress and are easily agitated when facing withdrawal.
A study in the 2014 American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse showed a clear association between the two disorders. In the study, researchers found that individuals who were addicted to opioid medications had a 42% greater chance of developing PTSD, with an even higher risk for those who combined opioids with sedatives.
Marijuana and Schizophrenia
Another common combination found at dual diagnosis treatment centers is that of marijuana use and schizophrenia. It is common knowledge among mental health experts that people who have schizophrenia, a disorder where an individual behaves in socially inappropriate ways with a number of social problems among other issues, often develop addictions. Some studies show that half of those struggling with schizophrenia also have an issue with substance use.
While most people consider marijuana to be a relatively harmless drug, it can cause severe problems for individuals who already have a mental health disorder. Although marijuana use can bring about symptoms similar to what is experienced during a schizophrenic episode, there is also a strong connection between marijuana use and sufferers of schizophrenia. Some studies indicate that there is a genetic link to the incidence of marijuana and schizophrenia existing together.
Many sufferers of co-occurring disorders can find help even though their troubles can be challenging to treat since they include both substance abuse and mental health disorders. Dual diagnosis treatment centers are available that are equipped to assist individuals in traveling down the road to wellness.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: Dual Diagnosis:
Psychology Today: Co-Occurring Disorders:
US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Mood Disorders and Substance Abuse Disorder:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcoholism and Co-Occurring Disorders: