It is not uncommon to find those who struggle with a mental health disorder develop a substance addiction and vice versa. The two often go hand-in-hand and exacerbate symptoms of one another. Any number of combinations of addictions and mental health disorders may develop and they each come with their own set of outcomes that require unique treatment.

While any combination of these conditions may develop, some disorders are more common than others. They can impact the way a person interacts with the world around them and make it difficult to control the way a person feels, behaves, or thinks. Often, without treatment, unhealthy coping mechanisms develop and the addiction and mental health condition worsen over time.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

When substance abuse and mental health conditions exist simultaneously, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders often exacerbate symptoms of one another and can make recovery more difficult. Treating them effectively requires dual-diagnosis treatment to ensure the conditions are addressed equally. Providing treatment for one without the other will inevitably lead to relapse because they are entangled and enable one another.

Some mental health disorders are more prominently observed in dual-diagnosis treatment than others. This is due to a number of reasons. Some mental health conditions are already prevalent in the population, some are closely linked to specific substances because of their side effects, and some are related because of increased risk for exposure to dangerous situations. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:


Substance abuse is common in those who struggle with depression. This is because drugs and alcohol may be used as a means of escape from symptoms of depression. While it may provide temporary escape, substance abuse often worsens depression.

It is not uncommon to find those who abuse substances may develop depression as a result. As the side effects of substance abuse wear off, many people struggle with feelings of sadness, emptiness, and other symptoms similar to those experienced with depression. In many cases, depression and substance abuse is worsened by a person’s attempt to lift their spirits through drugs or alcohol.


There are numerous forms of anxiety that manifest in varying degrees of severity. Symptoms of anxiety can be physical or psychological in nature, affecting a person’s ability to engage in activities, work effectively, or manage their relationships.

Substance abuse is common in those with anxiety because drugs and alcohol are often used as a form of self-medication. People may use substances to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, boost their confidence, and find a way to connect with others more easily. While this may work in some situations, substance abuse can cause this attempt at relief to backfire and intensify symptoms. This can lead to a person feeling more dependent on using them to try and minimize their power.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

After experiencing a traumatic or life-threatening event, PTSD can cause a number of troubling symptoms including flashbacks, becoming easily startled, angry outbursts, and avoidant behavior. Some people experience symptoms of “fight-or-flight” when faced with triggers that cause symptoms such as increased blood pressure, respiration, and adrenaline.

Because PTSD can produce high levels of stress and anxiety, it is not uncommon to find those who struggle with it look for an escape through drug or alcohol use. Substance abuse can sometimes allow a person to escape from painful memories and persistent feelings of stress and anxiety, but it ultimately worsens the condition.

In some cases, a person may develop PTSD as a result of a traumatic event that occurred while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Personality Disorders

Many who struggle with personality disorders use drugs or alcohol to mask the symptoms of the condition, but because the symptoms are so similar to side effects of substance abuse, it can be difficult to determine there is a co-occurring disorder. Impulsive behaviors, dramatic mood swings, and feelings of isolation can cause many to seek an escape or a sense of calm through drugs or alcohol. Addiction may also develop out of a desire to feel a better sense of self-worth.

It is often the case that a personality disorder is diagnosed during treatment for addiction. Because of the wide variety of symptoms that may present themselves with different personality disorders, it is difficult to identify until strides have been made in addiction treatment.

The Connection Between Mental Health and Addiction

There is an apparent connection between mental health and addiction as a majority of clients in addiction treatment also struggle with a co-occurring disorder. One of the most common influences in the development of this connection is the idea of self-medication. In many cases, a person with an untreated mental health condition may seek relief from disruptive, invasive symptoms through drugs and alcohol. While they may provide temporary relief, substance use does not help address the underlying condition and actually worsens it. Substance abuse contributes to the development of a new set of symptoms that may worsen the existing mental health disorder.

Conversely, substance abuse can lead to the development of mental health conditions. Symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, and depression may be triggered by substance use, but last long after the effects have worn off. Additionally, substance abuse can put someone at risk by placing them in dangerous situations. Violence, sexual assault, trouble with the law, and other risky situations can lead to the development of mental health disorders in response to trauma.

Dual-diagnosis treatment is required to effectively treat co-occurring disorders. In many cases, it can be difficult to identify the need for dual-diagnosis treatment because the similarity between symptoms of mental health conditions and addiction. Despite this overlap, the two require unique forms of care in order to address them effectively. It is impossible to achieve sobriety without healthy coping mechanisms and improved mental health. By treating both simultaneously, recovery outcomes significantly improve.

Dual-diagnosis provides personalized care to clients to ensure treatment is effective. The level of care each person needs in recovery will vary depending on individual circumstances. Dual-diagnosis ensures that these differences are acknowledged and addressed throughout the recovery process. In addition to therapy, medications may be used to help stabilize mood and reduce the prevalence of symptoms associated with mental health disorders. This can help clients focus on their recovery and find relief through appropriate means.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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