Co-Occurring Disorders and How to Treat Them | WRRC

Co-Occurring Disorders and How to Treat Them

Oftentimes, a mental health diagnosis goes hand-in-hand with a substance use disorder and vice versa. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to taper down their anxiety, depression, and the negative thoughts and feelings they may be having. Therefore, it is relatively common for people to struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders at the same time. 

Though doing so may have the intended results for a while, it never lasts. Instead, it perpetuates the problem and does not allow the individual to manage their mental health appropriately or recover. Co-occurring disorders like this are more challenging to treat, but it is possible with the right methods. 

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders refer to two or more disorders a person has at one time. This is often in referral to both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health diagnosis. Both drugs and mental health issues can change how a person behaves and thinks. This makes them extremely dangerous when paired together. 

Some people start out abusing drugs and then develop mental health issues because of it. For example, their drug use may have pushed their loved ones away, which leads to depression. The opposite is also true. 

Someone struggling with mental illness already may turn to drugs to escape their mind. No matter which situation is true, every individual will require different treatment to help combat the damage done. 

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

A variety of co-occurring disorders exist. Mental health disorders and substance use disorders can commonly occur within the same person. There are some combinations that are more common than others. 

Some of the most common co-occurring disorders professionals see include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder paired with alcohol use
  • Schizophrenia paired with marijuana use
  • Anxiety disorder paired with cocaine use
  • Depression paired with various substances

Everyone has their drug of choice when it comes to using it to alleviate their pain, though. While the above-listed pairings are seen often, it is just as likely to see any number of substances used in conjunction with any mental health struggle. No matter if a person experiences anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, a mood disorder, PTSD, or even ADHD, they may use certain substances to avoid symptoms or associated feelings. 

Some of the commonly abused substances include:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Stimulants
  • Inhalants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Opioids
  • Prescription drugs

An individual may choose a certain drug over another because it is easier for them to find and get their hands on. They may choose it because it was offered to them at a young age, and the feelings it evoked stuck with them. One may offer more desired effects than another. 

Sometimes genetics play a role, with a child continuing to use the same substance their parent did. Everyone’s reasoning for why they choose the drug they do will vary. 

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders

There are various options for co-occurring disorder treatment. The type or types of treatment used will depend solely on the individual and their needs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution since such a wide variety of mental health issues and substances can be abused. Many treatment programs specialize in dual diagnosis treatment or treatment for co-occurring disorders. 

Behavioral Therapies

Many physicians will want to try behavioral therapies first. These often involve talking through struggles and finding healthy ways to cope with triggers. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is often the first try.

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is the second choice. It is a similar process but helps the individual understand that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to have these disorders, and there are ways to deal with them. There is a focus on learning to control heightened emotions in the time they arise, but not necessarily rushing to “cure” them.

Both individual therapy and group therapy settings are often advised. Some people may even benefit from a specific therapy setting, such as art therapy or music therapy. The goal is to find the best solution for the individual and create a personalized plan that will work.


Some doctors will pair therapy with medication. Many medications help reduce symptoms, so these disorders are more manageable. Some people may take medication simply to ease their withdrawal symptoms from whichever substance they are abusing.

These prescriptions need to be taken exactly as described, as they, too, have the potential to be abused. It is often advised to start in a rehabilitation facility where someone can monitor the medications being taken and ensure symptoms are manageable during the withdrawal period. 


Individuals also need to learn self-help methods that they can use throughout their life. Time at a treatment center and spent in therapy will help, but it will not prevent further triggers down the line. Certain mental health conditions are not curable, but they are manageable with the right coping techniques. Eating a nutritious diet and finding an enjoyable exercise routine are terrific options. 

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

There are many benefits to receiving a dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders. First, any sort of assistance with managing even one disorder, let alone two or more, can greatly help find ways to cope with their triggers and gain back some control over their lives. 

Receiving a dual diagnosis treatment can help restore quality of life. The substance used daily will no longer be a problem, and the mental health struggle being faced will not be exacerbated by the drugs. It is also much more effective than attempting to treat only one part of the problem at a time. Handling both at once and allowing the individual to get things under control can increase their motivation to get and stay better. 

There is also a reduced risk for relapse if both issues are treated. Only treating one still leaves the individual at risk of returning to their drug of choice and continuing the cycle again. It is best to get the substance abuse handled and their mental health under control so they have other ways to cope besides reverting to using substances to survive. 

Mental health care is essential for gaining stability and living a happier and healthier life. Stand-alone substance abuse treatment can be beneficial for some people. However, when someone is also struggling with mental health concerns, dual diagnosis treatment is necessary for long-term recovery. 

Let Wellness Retreat Help You

Anyone in need of assistance managing their co-occurring disorders should seek help at Wellness Retreat. Our dual diagnosis treatment center focuses on mental health and substance abuse to ensure you receive the tools to recover safely and healthily. 

Contact us when you’re ready to join our community and improve your well-being.