What is a Co-occurring Disorders Treatment Program?

Co-occurring disorders occur frequently. The most effective way to overcome a co-occurring disorder is to seek professional treatment.
Co-Occurring Disorders

Table of Contents

Understanding Co-occurring Disorders

Mental health and substance use disorders are highly intertwined. When mental health professionals discuss a condition where someone experiences symptoms from both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder, they refer to it as a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis.

It is essential to mention that while these terms describe similar things, their meanings are slightly different. A dual diagnosis is a condition where someone struggles with two illnesses simultaneously. However, their illness is not necessarily a mental health condition and a substance use disorder. A dual diagnosis can also include any combination of two physical or mental health conditions.

The term co-occurring disorder is used to describe a situation where someone experiences symptoms from two illnesses at the same time. However, in this case, the two conditions pertain to mental health and addiction. When someone is diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, they have a mental health diagnosis and a substance use disorder.

What Is Comorbidity?

When reading about co-occurring disorder treatment, you may also see the term comorbidity or comorbidities.1 Like the term dual diagnosis, the term comorbidity references two conditions that occur at the same time, but it can refer to a chronic physical or neurological disorder that coincides with addiction.

Although research has yet to determine if one illness causes the other, countless studies indicate co-occurring disorders are closely connected. Ongoing drug or alcohol addiction often leads to unhealthy and unsafe coping mechanisms and symptoms of new or worsening mental health conditions. Someone with an undiagnosed or even diagnosed mental health condition may abuse drugs or alcohol to reduce the intensity of their symptoms. Unfortunately, self-medicating in this way causes side effects, including addiction.

How Common Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides annual statistics on mental illness and related concerns in the United States. Data from their 2020 report shows 21% of American adults and nearly 17% of American youth struggled with mental illness in 2020. This percentage accounts for approximately 67 million people over the age of six. Of those, 17 million struggled with a co-occurring disorder.2

Co-Occurring Disorders Symptoms

Mental Disorder Symptoms

Mental illness and addiction symptoms often overlap, making it difficult to diagnose or recognize a co-occurring disorder. Recognizing a co-occurring condition begins by understanding the various mental health disorder symptoms that may occur.

Common examples include:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • A lack of interest in activities
  • Mood swings
  • Cognitive challenges
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Behavioral changes (engaging in risky or illegal behaviors, for example)
  • Physical or medical difficulties

Substance Use Disorder Symptoms

Because co-occurring disorders involve struggles with addiction, it is also helpful to recognize the general signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder. While each substance has a unique list of effects, some common signs of abuse are common across most substances. These include:

  • The inability to quit despite trying
  • Withdrawal symptoms when trying to reduce or stop using
  • Tolerance built upon a substance
  • Dependency that causes one to continue using the substance

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Depression and Alcohol Addiction

Although almost any mental health condition can co-occur with a substance use disorder, some combinations are more common than others. One such example is depression, or major depressive disorder, and alcohol addiction. Data released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that approximately 17% of those diagnosed with recurring major depression also have an alcohol use disorder.3

Eating Disorders and Cocaine Addiction

Another common link is disordered eating and cocaine addiction. Because cocaine is a stimulant drug, it speeds up many processes within the body. For some who have an eating disorder, cocaine is used to help improve weight loss.

However, this process also leads to addiction and other significant physical and psychological challenges. The National Center for Addiction and Substance Use notes that up to 50% of people diagnosed with eating disorders abuse illicit drugs. This signifies a rate of more than five times the general population.4

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Heroin Addiction

Research also shows a strong connection between mental health conditions and opioid abuse. One example is post-traumatic stress disorder and heroin abuse. Although precise statistics are challenging to find, it is estimated that up to 66% of people seeking help to overcome a heroin use disorder also have post-traumatic stress disorder.5

Prescription opioid abuse is also common among people struggling with anxiety disorder. Some research shows up to 20% of people with an anxiety disorder also have an opioid use disorder.6

ADHD and Marijuana Use

Another common co-occurring mood disorder and substance abuse combinations are ADHD and marijuana use. Higher rates of all forms of substances are often found in people with ADHD. However, marijuana is seen with a higher frequency than most others.

The National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol & Related Conditions in the United States suggests adults with ADHD are up to three times more likely to abuse cannabis than those without. In addition, the same report shows adults with ADHD are more than twice as likely to meet the criteria for cannabis use disorder. In adults who seek help to overcome an addiction to marijuana, rates of ADHD are between 30% and 45%.7

What is a Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment Program?

Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

You can expect a multifaceted, integrated treatment program at a co-occurring disorder treatment facility. Most programs begin with a comprehensive assessment (or intake interview), followed by detox, therapy, and aftercare. The assessment process is a vital first step as it allows your treatment team to learn more about your mental health, depression symptoms, and relationship with substances.


It also provides the opportunity for providers to ask questions about your medical and mental health. The intake process helps give a clear understanding of your current physical and psychological health to ensure your treatment plan includes therapy models that focus on your unique treatment needs and goals.


The following step in co-occurring disorder treatment is detox. During detox, you will safely and successfully wean off alcohol under the safety of medical supervision. Depending on the severity of your addiction, this process may take several days or several weeks.

Throughout detox, a team of skilled medical professionals will monitor your physical and emotional health to ensure your safety and success. Once the detox process is complete, you will transition into the therapeutic portion of a treatment program.

Forming a Treatment Plan

The treatment team at a co-occurring disorder treatment center will work with you to develop a treatment plan designed around your unique treatment needs and goals. Using comprehensive and evidence-based therapy techniques, you will learn how to examine and understand the thought patterns and behaviors that lie at the root of your mental health and addiction symptoms.

An effective therapeutic model that is proven effective in managing symptoms of both mental health and addiction struggles s is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to encourage participants to consider and examine the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that lead to emotional challenges.

At the End of Treatment

Once these emotions are clearly understood, it is possible to learn the tools and skills necessary to replace harmful thoughts with healthy, productive ones. Changing, examining, and replacing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors is also a highly valuable coping skill vital to ongoing relapse prevention after treatment ends.

As a thirty, sixty, or ninety-day inpatient co-occurring disorder treatment program ends, members of your therapeutic team will work with you on a comprehensive aftercare plan designed to ensure that you have the ongoing support and guidance you need in the earliest and often most challenging days of recovery.

Co-occurring Disorders Treatment at The PAC Program

The best practices for treating co-occurring disorders involve an integrated, evidence-based treatment approach. It is crucial to choose a program like The PAC Program, where our treatment team is trained to manage the unique nature of co-occurring disorder treatment.

At a co-occurring disorder rehab, staff will work with you to design a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the symptoms of each disorder so you can safely and successfully recover. It is crucial for your treatment plan to address the root causes of each disorder as co-occurring conditions often build on each other.

Our Co-occurring Disorders Treatment Options

If you or a loved one struggles with a co-occurring disorder seeking help at a professional rehab is a vital step towards lasting recovery. Unfortunately, many people who struggle with mental health conditions turn to drugs or alcohol to help manage their symptoms.

Although this may seem effective initially, it can lead to significant physical and psychological health complications over time. Drugs and alcohol will help reduce the intensity of many mental health symptoms for a short time. However, substances do not remain active in the body for long. As the effects of substances begin to fade, painful and unpleasant symptoms will return, creating a cycle that often leads people to turn to higher and more frequent doses of their substance of choice to keep their symptoms at bay. This cycle, more often than not, leads to addiction.

Why Choose Us?

At The PAC Program, we can help you break the cycle of severe and unpleasant co-occurring disorder symptoms in a safe and healthy way. Through integrated co-occurring disorder treatment, we will help you learn to safely and successfully manage your mental health symptoms without using drugs or alcohol.

Overcoming co-occurring disorder challenges is possible with the support and guidance of a professional rehab like The PAC Program. Contact us today for more information about our programs and how we can help you.


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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