Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders

Learn about the best treatment options for co-occurring disorders and begin the road to recovery.

Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders

Table of Contents

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

When someone struggles with a mental health condition and addiction simultaneously, this is considered a co-occurring disorder. These conditions are highly intertwined and difficult to overcome without help and treatment.1 A variety of factors can lead to the development of co-occurring disorders.

For some, there is a genetic risk factor for both addiction and mental health challenges that increases one’s chance of a co-occurring disorder. Other factors, such as family history, environmental factors, trauma history, and elevated stress levels, can increase the risk of co-occurring disorders.

Comorbid Disorders

While the terms co-occurring and comorbid are similar, their meanings differ slightly. A co-occurring disorder, as noted above, refers to a diagnosis that involves a mental health condition and addiction. A comorbid disorder is a diagnosis that involves two illnesses simultaneously—not specific to mental health and substance use. A comorbid diagnosis can be any combination of two medical or mental health conditions.

With a co-occurring disorder, the symptoms of the conditions tend to overlap. This overlap makes it difficult to separate mental health and addiction symptoms. Also, while no evidence proves one condition causes the other, significant research indicates that mental health symptoms often lie at the root of addictive behaviors and vice versa.2 Due to how deeply mental health and addiction connect, addressing these conditions as part of residential treatment for co-occurring disorders at a treatment center is essential.

Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

The most effective treatment for co-occurring disorders involves integrated treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that treatment programs that combine addiction treatment and mental health treatment lead to increased positive outcomes overall.3 Additionally, integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders significantly reduces relapse rates.

Integrated co-occurring disorder programs address both addiction and mental health concerns using therapeutic models and pharmacological interventions. This reduces the need to address each condition as part of a separate treatment program, which is generally far less effective.

Inpatient Treatment Programs

Most treatment interventions for co-occurring disorders involve inpatient treatment at an addiction treatment center or mental health treatment program specializing in integrated care. Inpatient programs involve the patient staying at a mental health facility throughout the treatment process. This is where patients work closely with a skilled team of medical and mental health providers to learn more about their mental health and addiction.

Another benefit to co-occurring disorders treatment at an inpatient treatment program is a significant reduction in a relapse of symptoms for either condition. The tools and skills learned while in this program can be used to cope with triggers for mental health and addiction. Although a traditional addiction treatment program will provide relapse prevention education, learning coping skills as part of integrated treatment offers greater relapse prevention effectiveness.


An integrated treatment program ensures patients are supported at all levels and stages of treatment. The first step in most programs is detox. During detox, patients take steps to overcome dependency on drugs or alcohol. The early stages of detox often include powerful withdrawal symptoms that can have unpleasant physical and mental health effects for some people. At The PAC Program, our knowledgeable, caring professionals help manage all of the symptoms as part of a program that includes medication-assisted treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Multiple Therapeutic Approaches

Integrated co-occurring disorders treatment uses multiple behavioral and alternative therapeutic approaches to address co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Evidence-based techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement are all proven effective in helping patients manage mental health conditions and substance use disorders. In addition, patients can participate in peer support groups during therapy. The relationships forged during these groups can offer guidance and support during difficult times.

Continuum of Care

The best treatment programs for co-occurring disorders ensure an integrated continuum of care is in place as inpatient treatment concludes. This part of treatment varies from person to person but often includes ongoing outpatient treatment, integration of partial hospitalization programs, sober housing or transitional living arrangements, and ongoing therapeutic interventions that address substance abuse treatment and mental health needs.

Behavioral Therapies

Integrated treatments are the most effective tools mental health providers can use to treat co-occurring disorders. Integrated treatment ensures that the addiction and mental illness are addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment program that focuses on healing the whole person. Several specific behavioral therapy models have shown effectiveness in both addiction and mental health treatment.4 Two of the most commonly used are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a therapy model that focuses on helping people change harmful and unproductive thoughts by examining and replacing them with healthier thoughts and actions. CBT is often considered the “gold standard” of behavioral therapy for addiction and mental health concerns.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

DBT is based on cognitive behavioral therapy; however, instead of focusing on changing thoughts and behaviors, DBT is used to regulate emotions and improve relationships through validation of emotions and behavior change.

Other Behavioral Therapies

Other therapy models used as part of co-occurring disorder treatment may include assertive community treatment (ACT), therapeutic communities (TCs), contingency management (CM) or motivational incentives (MI), exposure therapy, or integrated group therapy (IGT). The best therapy model that best helps patients achieve their treatment needs and goals will be unique. An integrated treatment program will include therapy that addresses addiction and mental health needs to ensure a safe and effective journey to recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many possible combinations of co-occurring disorders, and each will have unique signs and symptoms. Therefore, creating a list that encompasses all potential signs and symptoms of a co-occurring disorder is challenging. Regardless of which two conditions combine, someone with a co-occurring disorder will experience mental health symptoms and symptoms associated with a substance use disorder. Typical examples may include:5

Mood changes or mood swings

Sudden behavioral changes

Increased (often voluntary) isolation

Engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors

Substance seeking behaviors

Loss of control over how much they drink or use

Experiencing cravings

New or worsening legal and financial struggles

New or worsening medical and mental health conditions

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking or using

Increased tolerance

The symptoms of each mental health condition will vary from person to person and between conditions. For example, mental health symptoms related to depression will differ from those experienced by someone with an eating disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorder Statistics and Barriers

Co-Occurring Disorder Statistics and Barriers
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) tracks statistics on mental illness and related diagnoses in the United States. Data from their most recent report released in 2020 shows:5

21% of adults in the United States and 17% of American youth, which accounts for sixty-seven million people, had a mental illness

Seventeen million struggled with a co-occurring disorder

Very few with a co-occurring disorder sought or received the help they need to get well

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Barriers

Like addiction treatment or mental health treatment, there are often barriers to co-occurring disorder treatment. One such barrier is cost. Fortunately, most insurance programs offer coverage for mental health and addiction treatment as part of their coverage plans. Of course, insurance policies can be difficult to understand, so it is essential for people to talk to their insurance company or contact a member of our team at The PAC Program. We can help patients learn more about their insurance coverage before beginning treatment so they have a clear understanding of their potential out-of-pocket expenses.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders at The PAC Program

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is most effective when providers use an integrated, evidence-based treatment model. The best opportunities for recovery and lasting sobriety involve choosing a treatment program like The PAC Program, where the treatment team is trained to address the unique nature of co-occurring disorder treatment. At our co-occurring disorder treatment program, we will work with each patient to develop a comprehensive treatment program that addresses their addiction and mental health symptoms.

Seeking help at a co-occurring disorders treatment program will ensure our patients receive the help they need to heal physically and emotionally. We will provide the support and guidance needed to safely and effectively put struggles with addiction and co-occurring mental health challenges in the past. Integrated therapy will teach patients how to cope with triggers and other mental (or physical) health challenges without turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. Let us help you start over and break free from co-occurring disorder symptoms. Call The PAC Program today for more information about how our co-occurring disorder treatment programs can help you start your journey towards healing.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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