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Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment Guide


Do you or a loved one have a mental health condition and also battle addiction? Having just one of these ailments can be challenging, but it can make it particularly difficult to cope when you have both.

In this article, we look at the unique problems that people with different co-occurring disorders face, indications that your loved one has a co-occurring disorder, and how to get help when someone has dual diagnosis.

What Is A Co-Occurring Disorder?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website definition of a co-occurring disorder is a mental health condition that someone has alongside an addiction. This is common, as people with mental health conditions often self-medicate in an attempt to free themselves from the symptoms. This never works, as when the substances wear off, the mental health problems come back even worse

Co-Occurring Disorders & Substance Abuse

When someone has dual diagnosis, it can create far bigger issues than if a person has either a mental illness or addiction. The two conditions can feed each other, which can expedite the downfall of the person with dual diagnosis. This is why it is so important to get help.

Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders include depression, anxiety, PTSD and borderline personality disorder. These conditions can both cause someone to become addicted to substances as a way to escape the symptoms of their co-occurring condition, and also cause someone’s condition to worsen.


PTSD is a condition caused by trauma that can cause someone to experience depression, difficulty connecting with people, difficulty connecting with themselves, nightmares and flashbacks, among other symptoms.

A person with PTSD might begin taking heroin to block out the flashbacks that they experience, but then find themselves unable to stop. When they attempt to quit, they are likely to have even more severe flashbacks.

Clinical Depression

Clinical depression is classified as a persistently depressed mood and/or a loss in interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, which cause significant impairment in the daily life of the person who has clinical depression.

Someone who suffers from clinical depression may find that alcohol temporarily lifts their depression, but once they become dependent on it, the withdrawal symptoms that they experience massively exacerbate the depression that they already had.

Anxiety Disorder

Everyone feels anxiety from time to time. It is part of the regular human condition, and it can be useful. It indicates to us when something might be “off”. On the other hand, someone who has an anxiety disorder feels anxiety most of the time, even in situations that are not typically stressful. They may also feel a pounding heart, fatigue, tense muscles and profuse sweating.

An anxiety disorder sufferer may start taking Xanax to block out the panicky feelings that they feel, but are left with far greater levels than they originally had. You can probably see now why these co-occurring disorders make addiction so much more difficult to treat.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is an often misunderstood disorder that is characterized by unstable moods, behavior and relationships. Someone with BPD may fear being left on their own, has extreme emotional swings, feelings of emptiness, unclear or shifting self-image, unstable relationships and explosive anger.

Someone with BPD is far more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse than most people. And once they have become stuck in addiction, like these other disorders, it can be more challenging to get out of it.

Signs That A Loved One Needs A Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Center

Knowing whether your loved one has a co-occurring disorder can be very tricky. This is why we have compiled a few ways that you may be able to tell if your friend or family member has a mental health issue alongside addiction.

Your Loved One Suffered With Mental Illness Prior To Addiction

If the person that you love who has addiction had a history of mental health problems before they picked up drugs or alcohol, they are certain to still have mental health problems.

While substances can certainly exacerbate mental health problems and cause someone to externally seem more unwell than they previously were, certain drugs can mask symptoms of mental illness.

It is common for people to actually appear more “together” when they start taking downer drugs like benzodiazepines and opioids. The suicidal teen who starts taking oxycodone to numb their suicidal feelings may seem better than they have done for years when they first start taking the drug. And as long as they can keep getting their hands on it, they may still seem relatively together. But if you know that they were suicidal before they started taking the drug, they will still be suicidal..

Your Loved One Has Told You They Are Self Medicating

This is a reliable indication that your friend or family member has a co-occurring disorder. An example of this is if your loved one comes to you and tells you that they have been taking heroin because they feel crippled by depression, and that this is the reason that they began taking it. In this situation, it is quite likely that they have a co-occurring disorder. But as we have already discussed, speak with a mental health professional to confirm this.

Your Loved One Is Behaving Increasingly Erratic

Starting bizarre conversations, keeping strange hours, having an unusual appearance and having a messy house can all be indications that your loved one has a co-occurring disorder. Of course, these are all also symptoms of drug addiction.

A meth user might show all of these without having any severe mental illness. For this reason, we do not recommend that you attempt to diagnose anyone with a co-occurring disorder yourself. The best thing that you can do for the person you care about is to take them to someone who can diagnose them for mental illnesses.

Note that in many cases, someone cannot actually be diagnosed with a mental illness until they have been detoxed and a sufficient amount of time has gone past. The perambulations of the mind are particularly severe when someone has just gotten clean from drugs or alcohol.

Your Loved One Has Told You They Feel Mentally Ill

Perhaps the person you care about has actively come to you and expressed that they feel like they are troubled mentally. This may indicate that this person has a mental illness, though you should also bear in mind that this person may have become mentally unwell due to their drug use. Again, speaking with a mental health professional is the best move here.

How To Get Proper Dual Diagnosis Treatment

We hope that reading this blog has helped you to understand that it is impossible to give a dual diagnosis to someone you suspect has a co-occurring disorder by yourself. To do this, you must get the assistance of a mental health professional who has experience with both addiction and mental health problems.

If you suspect that your loved one has a co occurring disorder, and you would like to get them help for this as well as their addiction, please give Prosperity Haven a call. We understand the subtle interplay of addiction and mental illness, and know what it takes to deal with both.


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