Which Types of Mental Illness Are Most Likely to Co-Occur with Addiction?

The Recovery Village RidgefieldCo-Occurring Disorders

Closeup of a woman's face.
It is very common for people living with mental disorders to develop substance use disorder. If you are suffering from the low-energy, down feeling that comes with depression, it seems almost natural to look for a substance to boost your dopamine and physical energy levels. If you struggle with ADHD, just focusing on simple tasks can be hard, so self-medicating with non-prescribed substances may for a time make you feel more under control. The statistics show the prevalence of these co-occurring disorders:
  • 50 percent of people with a mental disorder also have a substance use issue.
  • 37 percent of people with mental illness also misuse alcohol.
  • 53 percent of people with mental illness also struggle with drug misuse.
The problem is these DIY attempts to feel better can slide quickly into addiction. That is why many of the people in Washington State addiction treatment have co-occurring mental disorders. This article examines some of the more common co-occurring mental illnesses with strong links to addiction and explains how treatment received in Washington State rehab also treats co-occurring mental illnesses.

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

A co-occurring disorder is also called co-morbidity and it refers to when two or more diseases are present in the same person. These diseases may happen simultaneously or concurrently and can be psychiatric in nature or tied to misuse of drugs or alcohol. The federal government tracks co-occurring disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says roughly one-half of the people who have a mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder. These co-occurring disorders happen with teenagers and well into older years, making treatment more challenging for Washington State rehab professionals. The factors leading to these co-occurring disorders are as varied as the individual, but it is true that some illnesses do tend to manifest as joint disorders. Think about it this way. When a person is diagnosed with asthma, it is often tied to an underlying allergic reaction. In the same way, people with diabetes are frequently diagnosed with heart disease. While the co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder does not stem from one disease causing the other necessarily, they are linked. Drugabuse.gov spells it out in this way:
“Both substance use disorders and other mental illnesses are caused by overlapping factors such as genetic and epigenetic vulnerabilities, issues with similar areas of the brain, and environmental influences such as early exposure to stress or trauma.”
While the reasons behind these co-occurring disorders are still being researched, there are mental illnesses that seem to be more closely tied to substance use, although it is the chicken or the egg syndrome when trying to determine which came first. Some common co-occurring disorders include:
  • Alcoholism frequently is tied to disorders where the brain is chaotic, such as mania, schizophrenia, or dementia. The irony, of course, is that alcohol can make these disorders much worse. Studies reveal that alcohol damages the brain, including repressing or destroying the ability to store memories.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is tied most closely to alcohol abuse. People with ASPD are 21 times more likely to abuse alcohol – and vice versa.
  • The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that one-half of all people with schizophrenia have a substance use problem.
  • People living with anxiety often turn to cocaine as a way to feel more powerful and in control. Sadly, cocaine abuse can lead to worsening symptoms including paranoia, insomnia, violence, and even hallucinations.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a specific type of mental illness occurring after a major life trauma, such as a near-death experience. Car accidents or war zones can cause severe physical injuries, but they also cause mental illness as well. The pain from the physical injuries is often treated with opioid drugs and it is that feeling of calmness and pleasure that trigger the slide toward addiction in some people. Opioid medications are highly addictive, but when coupled with co-occurring PTSD, the results can quickly become catastrophic.
  • Clinical depression is often related to heroin addiction. Heroin can make people feel better with short-term use. The problem is that this illegal substance requires increasing doses to reach the state of high the depressed person is seeking. This increases the risk of overdose, as well as the chance of addiction. Heroin is a street drug, so the users run the risk of never knowing exactly the strength of what they are taking or whether it is cut with potentially lethal substances like fentanyl. Over time, heroin burns out the receptors in the brain that allow the person to feel happiness.
  • Tobacco use seems to be more prevalent in people with mental illness, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 70 to 80 percent of the people living with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes, which is five times higher than the national average. According to the NIDA, “Smoking may reduce or help individuals cope with the symptoms of these illnesses such as poor concentration, low mood, and stress.” This means schizophrenics also have a higher rate of heart disease and an overall shorter life expectancy in addition to the challenges of living with this severe mental illness.
Man holding his hands over his face. The irony here is that mental illness can lead to substance misuse and substance misuse can cause mental illness. People living with mental illness often turn to drugs as a form of self-medicating. Some drugs may even tamp down the mental health disorder for a brief time. But they can also increase symptoms, cause addiction, and create new problems for the substance user. Long-term drug or alcohol use changes the brain in ways that actually predispose people to mental illness, according to drugabuse.gov.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Washington State Rehab

Understanding co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders is really the first step toward curing both of these complex diseases. Fortunately, the Washington State rehab community is highly focused on curing these diseases, having offered treatment to countless individuals and their families over the years. Providing co-occurring disorder treatment hinges on one primary step – and that is making that first call to Washington State rehab. Please contact us today!