Content reviewed by Nicholas G. Glines

A co-occurring disorder, also known as dual-diagnosis, describes the presence of two or more conditions that occur simultaneously. Typically, co-occurring disorders refer to the presence of one mental health disorder and one substance use disorder (SUD), such as addiction.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that nearly 7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. Of the 20.3 million adults with a SUD, almost 38% also have a mental health condition. Of the 42.1 million adults with mental health issues, nearly 18% also have a SUD.

Despite the significant prevalence of co-occurring disorders, it does not necessarily mean that one caused the other. However, the interactions between multiple conditions tend to exacerbate the symptoms of one another. It is essential to understand the potential risk factors associated with the development of both mental health disorders and SUDs and to understand the overlap between the two.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders

Mental health describes an individual’s psychological, emotional and social well-being. Mental health can be affected by internal and external factors and tends to change significantly over time.

It is vital to understand that “mental health disorder” is a broad term that describes a range of different psychological, emotional and social abnormalities. The severity and symptoms experienced by an individual with a mental health disorder will vary from person to person.

When it comes to the development of mental health disorders, it is crucial to recognize that there is no one single cause. However, there are a number of risk factors that can lead to the development of mental health conditions. These risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Adverse life experiences during childhood
  • Unresolved trauma
  • Biological or genetic factors, such as a family history of mental health disorders or chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Poverty or homelessness
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Unresolved emotional distress, such as anxiety or depression
  • Negative family environment
  • Peer rejection
  • Difficult temperament
  • Using alcohol or other drugs

Risk Factors for Substance Use Disorders

There are also risk factors specific to substance use and the development of substance use disorders. Many of these risk factors overlap with risk factors for developing mental health disorders. It may be helpful to understand that these risk factors do not guarantee the development of mental health conditions or SUDs. However, it makes an individual more susceptible to developing one or both.

Risk factors associated with the development of substance use include:

  • Chaotic home environments
  • Ineffective parenting
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Difficult temperament
  • Poor academic performance
  • Affiliations with peers that engage in substance use
  • A family history of substance use
  • Perceptions of societal approval regarding drug-using behavior

Why Do Mental Disorders and Substance Use Disorders Occur Together?

In seeing the overlap in risk factors between both conditions, it is customary to wonder why they tend to coincide. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests three potential causes:

#1. Risk factors overlap. Several risk factors overlap between both conditions, including:

  • Genetic vulnerabilities/disorders “run” in families
  • Environmental factors, such as trauma, stress or lack of parental involvement

These risk factors can cause genetic changes in an individual’s brain that may enhance the development of either or both conditions.

#2. Mental health disorders can contribute to substance use. Many people that struggle with mental health and associated emotional distress may turn to alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication. Self-medicating may seem like an effective way to experience temporary relief from symptoms; however, there is an emphasis on temporary. Over time, self-medicating will worsen symptoms as they are not being dealt with, just masked. Mental health disorders also perpetuate substance use.

#3. Substance use can contribute to the development of mental health disorders. Substance use can trigger long-lasting changes in brain structure and brain functioning, increasing an individual’s susceptibility to developing a mental health disorder.

Treatment Options for Co-occurring Disorders

Effective treatment for co-occurring disorders must treat both conditions simultaneously. Typically, an individual will begin their treatment journey with detox to help clear their mind and body of any reminisce of harmful substances. From detox, patients may benefit from residential or inpatient treatment, as it allows them to put their recovery at the highest priority in their life, especially during those first several months of recovery.

Most treatment facilities offer psychiatric medications or medication management as a part of their treatment program. Medications can help alleviate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms from substance use and relieve symptoms associated with mental health conditions. Treatment education is a must for patients and encourages them to understand better their diagnoses and the potential causes of those diagnoses. After completing a treatment program, patients are encouraged to continue ongoing therapy to help assist with any difficulties in transitioning back to daily life outside of treatment.

At New Hope Ranch, we specialize in the treatment of co-occurring disorders. We recognize that treatment must be individualized for patients to enhance treatment success. We are a men’s-only residential facility that believes in your ability to recover from the challenging effects of mental health and SUDs. To learn more about our treatment center or for more about co-occurring disorders, do not hesitate to give us a call today at (737) 600-8565.