Impact Recovery Center Logo

Written by: Admin

How Should Addiction Treatment Address Co-Occurring Disorders?

Basics Of Co-Occurring Disorders

The brain and body have a highly complex relationship. Because of these complexities, it should not come as a surprise that substance abuse and addiction have a huge impact on the brain. Substance abuse can instigate, develop, and sometimes even cover up symptoms of other mental conditions. And because addictive substances influence the brain and its chemistry, it can be difficult to identify the root cause of a person’s struggles. This is where co-occurring disorders (CODs) come in.

A co-occurring disorder accompanies or “co-occurs” with a diagnosis of substance abuse disorder (SUD) or addiction. CODs can be psychological, emotional, and even physical in nature. Another name for CODs are “dual disorders” or “dual diagnoses.” As far as recovery from addiction goes, the most effective substance abuse treatments focus on each client’s disorders individually, as well as how they interact with each other.

But just how prevalent are CODs among those struggling with addiction and substance abuse? A recent study found that 50-70% of clients in treatment for substance abuse disorder in the last ten years had histories of at least one psychological disorder. The reverse was true for those in treatment for psychological conditions. Between 20-50% of clients had current or past histories with addiction or substance abuse. With this in mind, it’s essential that an addiction recovery center addresses CODs as a part of their treatment plans.

But there are barriers to addressing CODs in clinical settings. According to one study, these barriers include:

  • The increasing rates of CODs among clients and the high demand of professionals to address them
  • Past failures of treatment programs to address and effectively treat CODs, an awareness that is necessary in order to develop new and innovative programs
  • Inadequate resources of treatment centers to address CODs, especially how much of a center’s finances should be allocated to such endeavors

There is a clear need for specific interventions that address CODs for those in addiction recovery. But how to achieve these treatments is not always so simple.

What Are The Different Types Co-Occurring Disorders?

Many CODs can be quite severe or clearly expressed. These include conditions like personality disorders, behavioral disorders and psychotic disorders. Other CODs are less obvious and may just look like mild cases of anxiety or depression. When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, CODs more commonly refer to psychological disorders.

The broad categories of CODs include but are not limited to the following:

  • Mood Disorders (depression, bipolar)
  • Anxiety Disorders (social, PTSD, OCD, panic anxieties)
  • Psychotic Disorders (schizophrenia, schizoaffective)
  • Eating Disorders (anorexia, bulimia)
  • Personality Disorders (narcissistic, paranoia, histrionic)
  • Behavioral Disorders (defiance, hyperactivity)

What Are The Signs Of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Like any complex diagnosis, the signs and symptoms of CODs vary based on each person. For example, socioeconomic circumstances and the types of substances they are abusing are only two examples. As such, the types of mental-emotional disorders can express CODs in drastically different ways.

In general, some of the behavioral symptoms of CODs may include:

  • Seclusion
  • Thoughts or attempts of suicide
  • General aggressiveness
  • Drastic and irrational mood changes
  • Trouble with authority
  • Employment instability
  • Housing instability
  • Financial instability
  • Prostitution or sexual deviance
  • Resistance to hygiene and cleanliness
  • Difficulty focusing

Do many of the signs of CODs seem similar to those of addiction and substance abuse? Indeed, there is significant overlap between CODs and SUDs. Because of this, it can be tough to identify the source of a person’s issue. In other words, the mental disorder may be triggering the substance abuse or vice versa.

What Are The Causes Of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Environmental Circumstances:

  • Chronic stress and traumatic situations (whether early in life or later) often trigger an underlying psychological health disorder. In the same way, this goes for conditions that were previously dormant. In the midst of stress, substance use and abuse can become active as a stress outlet.

Brain Chemistry:

  • The parts of the brain that regulate mood, stress, and reward systems are stimulated in a similar way by both substance abuse and mental-emotional disorders. This overlap can lead to a tangled web of symptoms that need proper care and treatment.

Traumatic Childhood Experiences:

  • A person has a higher risk of substance abuse if they are exposed to drugs or alcohol at a young age. Early exposure holds the potential to affect the development of the brain and bodily response systems. Similarly, this applies to the development of psychological disorders.

Social Stigmas:

  • One of the biggest hardships of those with mental disorders is the social stigma that comes with their diagnosis. A person may be perceived as dangerous, intrinsically broken, or sometimes even contagious. These harmful misunderstandings are clearly incorrect. But they can cause fear and shame for those with CODs. Therefore, it’s easy to see how they could lead to self-isolation and resistance to outside help.

Incarceration Injustice:

  • Of the number of incarcerated individuals convicted of possession and use of illegal substances, those with CODs have a higher likelihood of being incarcerated again within a six-year period. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system fails to identify such cases. This often results in an unending incarceration cycle and a lack of treatment for those who desperately need it.


  • People experiencing homelessness often have multiple CODs. Moreover, they often have difficulty accessing healthcare because of distrust, financial limitation, and sometimes even the mental disorders themselves.

What Does Treatment For CODs Look Like?

Addiction treatment centers are one of the best places to start if you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and CODs. As a starting point, a treatment center will first provide a dual-diagnosis, which involves treating any underlying causes of addiction. In other words, they can treat mental and emotional disorders alongside the person’s substance abuse patterns.

Therefore, don’t hesitate to reach out for help as soon as possible. Get in touch with one of the team at Impact Recovery today. You can begin the healing process necessary to turn your life around.