Among the many reasons that people start abusing drugs or alcohol, mental health issues are one of the most common. Many people begin using in the first place in an attempt to self-medicate or drown out their feelings. People who have both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder are said to have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 7.9 million adults in the United States had co-occurring disorders in 2014. The problem is that, until recently, people often received treatment for only one condition, which wasn’t enough to be effective for either.

Why do people develop co-occurring disorders? Both mental and substance use disorders can have biological, psychological, and social aspects. For example, an individual might suffer from depression because they have unhappy home lives and decide to start drinking in order to try to drown out the depression and cope with the negative living situation. Any combination of mental illness and substance abuse can be considered a co-occurring disorder. A person might have severe anxiety and an opioid addiction, for example, or bipolar disorder and a cocaine habit.

People with co-occurring disorders are considered very high risk. Suicide is the leading cause of death among people with substance use disorders, and 90% of the people who die by suicide have an existing mental illness or substance abuse problem at the time of their death. Unfortunately, these patients can be difficult to treat, especially if they’re entering an addiction treatment facility and have never had their mental illness diagnosed. They’ll need special care from a psychiatrist or therapist, and their treatment plan may need to be adjusted if they begin taking medication for their mental disorder.

Many people with co-occurring disorders are homeless. It can be a vicious cycle – you have depression or another mental illness, so you start using drugs to try to self-medicate. Unfortunately, the symptoms of both disorders get worse, and you end up losing your job and landing on the streets. Your depression only worsens because of your situation, and you drink more to try to cope.


It’s recommended that people with co-occurring disorders receive what is called integrated treatment, meaning the substance use disorder and mental health disorder are treated at the same time. Sometimes that means that treatment will last longer than it would for a person who was only struggling with substance abuse. The good news is, however, that it might lower costs in the long run, by having all of the patient’s needs addressed at once instead of visiting multiple specialists.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.