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Drugs & Health Blog

What Are "Co-Occurring" Disorders?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

As many as 6 in 10 people with a substance use disorder also suffer from a mental health condition such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder, to name a few. When this happens, the person has “co-occurring disorders.” The problem is, fewer than 10% of adults with co-occurring disorders receive treatment for both conditions—and more than half of them receive no treatment at all. Teens also can suffer from co-occurring disorders.

Which Came First?

It’s often impossible to say which problem came first. In one case, a person may experience anxiety from a childhood trauma and turn to drugs to cope, developing an addiction. In another case, the person may use heroin and have negative experiences that could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. The important thing is to get help for both problems—drug problems and any other mental health disorders.

Treating co-occurring disorders can be challenging because often the different specialists involved don’t coordinate treatment for the different problems. Doctors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists most often treat mental health disorders, whereas a mix of health care professionals with various backgrounds may provide treatment for drug addiction.

Treatment Must Address the Whole Person

NIDA and other Federal agencies are working to make sure people who have co-occurring disorders receive integrated treatment that addresses both substance use and other mental health disorders. Some medications may ease symptoms of a mental health disorder and also may help the person stay off a certain drug.

Other types of treatment also may be effective. For example, for teens with co-occurring disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy can help. This therapy helps the person change harmful beliefs and behaviors, and provides skills to handle stressful circumstances.

Do you know of anyone in real life or even in a movie or television show who had co-occurring disorders?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


thats great now, exactly how are our children supposed to pay to get the help they need.... I ask My government ?

Maybe if we funded education and healthcare more, paid teachers the wages they deserve we can fix some of these societal ills. Stop our elected officials from cutting funding for social programs and cease from giving money to Iran or the insurgents in Syria and contributing to the refugee crisis, we could pay for treatment as well. Look at some of the salaries of the CEO's of the healthcare companies and we can see why healthcare is so expensive. Just some tips that from a concerned parent.

yes, I have know more than one person, including famliy members who have co-occurring disorders and finding and accessing treament to address both issues or multiple issues has been and continues to be a challenge. We are whole human beings but the systems deliver disjointed, single focused interventions. Even when both are addressed, they are addressed from a totally different lens that seldoms includes the insights, knowledge and expereince of the individual or his or her family. I know efforts are being made for this inclusion, however, even in promoting self directed care, family involvement and youth driven concepts, the systems divide. We are families of children with mental health issues or families of children with SA issues or families of children with trauma issues, etc. How is this helpful?

Many of the families that I know, including my own, have had multiple intersects with multiple systems, each with its own brand of primary issue. The idea that there could be an open door with access as opposed to some magical number of mulitple keys to open the door(s) to recovery is needed. That open door must included culturally congruent interventions.

About half of those that I know are living lives of wellness. Those are not good out comes!

Part of the trouble with the low success rates of many addiction treatment programs is the externalization of the problem, the emphasis on how negative the environment is, one's peers, etc. While this all comes into play, it can ignore deeper-seated reasons for abuse or addiction. Oftentimes, the person is self-medicating to somehow address the psychological or emotional trauma which they may have, or to lift them out of depression, and only the addition (symtom, in this case) is addressed and not the causes.

An holistic approach to treatment, in which the entire person is addressed in a tailored program by a licensed professional skilled and experienced in treating both substance abuse and mental health challenges can be of great benefit to someone suffering from co-occurring disorder who wants to get well.

I'm not sure where you're located, but I know of a clinic near me which has this type of program. [commercial link removed, per guidelines].

There are also co-occurring support groups in New Jersey, depemding on the area you're in. Google's the best place to start your search :)