What Are "Co-Occurring" Disorders?

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Sad teenager

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?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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