what are co-occurring disorders
Published On: October 28, 2016|Categories: Treatment|

Co-occurring disorders, often known as dual-diagnosis disorders, are present when an individual is diagnosed with both mental illness and substance abuse.

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states, mental illnesses in co-occurring disorders can consist of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The substance abuse can take the form of alcohol, marijuana, pills, cocaine, heroin and so on. Both mental illness and substance abuse negatively affect the individual’s level of functioning.1

NAMI states that the presenting co-occurring disorders do not always emerge together at first, and that it is common for an individual to initially present with just a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. Approximately one-third of individuals with mental illnesses and about one-half of those with severe mental illnesses engage in some form of substance abuse. Similarly, one-third of those who abuse alcohol and one-half of those who abuse other substances experience a mental illness.

Men are more likely than women to develop a co-occurring disorder. Other individuals who may be more vulnerable include those of a lower socio-economic status, veterans and those diagnosed with other medical illnesses or diseases.

Some common behaviors in someone experiencing a co-occurring disorder include:

co-occurring disorders in men

  • Taking steps to isolate oneself from friends and family
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors when under the influence of a substance
  • Losing control over use of substances
  • Exhibiting sudden changes in behavior, personality or mood
  • Experiencing sudden mood changes, confused or distorted thinking, and suicidal thoughts

Abstinence of mood-altering chemicals is imperative in treatment because therapists and other medical personnel will try to understand which came first: the mental illness or the substance abuse disorder? In other words, did abusing alcohol or other substances cause one to become depressed or does a depressed individual begin self-medicating with alcohol and/or other drugs?

Typically an individual will go through detoxification programs and other inpatient facilities when initially coming off substances. Following that, many enter a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient program. At High Focus Centers, we offer a co-occurring disorders track for both adolescents and adults that is catered to those experiencing both a mental illness and substance abuse disorder.

You are certainly not alone on your journey to recovery. Help is available, and High Focus has a dedicated and compassionate staff that understand the complexity of these dual disorders. At High Focus Centers we do our very best to help individuals live a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.

Raymond Prohaska
Mental Health Associate & MSW Intern


  1. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis
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