Common Co-Occurring Disorders With Substance Abuse

Common Co-Occurring Disorders With Substance Abuse

Table of Contents

In most cases, substance abuse goes hand in hand with other mental health issues, really complicating the problem. These co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, require careful and comprehensive treatment to address both issues simultaneously.

This blog will explore 6 of the most common co-occurring disorders with substance abuse that need to be understood for treatment and recovery. We will cover each disorder and how they interact with substance abuse. Diagnosing and treating dual diagnosis disorders will set you on your journey toward a healthier, more balanced life.

Here Are 6 of the Most Common Co-occurring Disorders

1. Depression

Major depressive disorder is a common but serious mental health condition that affects how you feel, think, and go about doing daily activities. Symptoms include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in most activities, changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty in thinking or concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression and substance abuse commonly co-occur and mutually exacerbate each other. A depressed person might quickly start to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to feel better, even if only for a little while. The use of substances worsens depression and increases hopelessness and feelings of despair over time. Moreover, chronic substance abuse can also create depressive symptoms; hence, it is difficult to identify the one that preceded the other.

2. Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a class of mental health disorders defined by excessive and persistent feelings of worry or fear that interfere with daily activities. Common examples of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • PTSD-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Anxiety disorders and substance abuse can co-occur, and each exacerbates the other. A person affected by anxiety may find escape in drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating to alleviate symptoms temporarily.

For example, someone who has social anxiety might drink alcohol to feel more at ease during social situations. However, remarkably, what is considered to be self-medication often leads to dependence, addiction, and worsen anxiety symptoms later on.

On the other hand, substance abuse is likely to increase the chance of developing or aggravating anxiety disorders. For instance, the use of stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine might raise a person to states of anxiety or panic; on the other hand, withdrawal from substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines might put one in severe states of anxiety. In this interplay between stress and substance abuse, each fuels the other, making recovery difficult.

3. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is a mental health condition where you have extreme mood swings that include highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, behavior and the ability to think clearly. There are two main types:

Bipolar I Disorder
Manic episodes lasting at least 7 days or manic symptoms bad enough to need hospitalization. Depressive episodes also occur, lasting at least 2 weeks.
A pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, not severe enough to need hospitalization.

There is a strong link between bipolar and substance abuse, each condition feeds into and worsens the other. People with bipolar are more likely to abuse substances as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. For example:

  • During Manic Phases: They might use substances to prolong the euphoric feelings of mania or to calm themselves down when they’re feeling extreme agitation and irritability.
  • During Depressive Phases: They might use alcohol or drugs to feel less sad, hopeless and tired.
Substance abuse can in turn worsen the symptoms of bipolar and trigger mood swings. For example, alcohol, a central nervous system depressant can deepen depressive episodes, while stimulants can trigger or intensify manic episodes. This vicious cycle makes it harder to treat and manage both conditions.

4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by either direct or indirect exposure to a life-threatening event, serious injury, or trauma brought about by physical violation. Typical incidents that have the potential to cause PTSD include military combat, natural disasters, severe accidents, violent physical or sexual assault, abuse during childhood, and witnessing violence.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Intrusive Memories: These are recurrent, distressing memories without volition, flashbacks, or nightmares.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind them of what happened.
  • Thought Changes: Hopelessness, memory problems, relationship trouble, loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy.
  • Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions: Getting easily startled, feeling on guard, angry outbursts, and being barely able to fall into deep sleep or concentrate.

Many men living with PTSD turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with their symptoms. The feelings and intrusive memories linked to PTSD are overwhelming; therefore, some men may turn to drugs or alcohol to either escape or numb the pain.

5. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorders in men, and the disorder often persists until later in life. Characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, the disorder interferes with daily life and responsibilities. The symptoms of ADHD are subdivided into two types: inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

ADHD symptoms:

  • Inattention: Difficulty sustaining attention; makes careless mistakes; has difficulty listening; is not able to organize tasks; is easily distracted and forgetful in daily activities.
  • Hyperactivity: Fidgets, can’t sit still, excessive running or climbing can’t play quietly, and talks excessively.
  • Impulsivity: Interrupts others, can’t wait for turns, blurts out answers to questions, and makes impulsive decisions without thinking of consequences.

The relationship between Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and substance use disorders in men is very high. In most cases, men affected by ADHD tend to have increased impulsivity and hyperactivity; as such, they commonly engage in substance abuse in trying to overcome their symptoms or feel normal. Such kinds of self-medication rapidly lead to dependence and addiction.

Furthermore, social and professional pressures on men with ADHD may increase these challenges, and substance use may appear as an alluring method of coping, at least for a short-term basis, with such demands. Both ADHD and substance use disorders must be treated simultaneously for recovery and long-term wellness to be achieved.

6. Personality disorders

Personality disorders involve long-term patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and emotional responses that deviate significantly from the expectations of society. Such patterns are pretty rigid and pervasive, leading to distress and impairment in social relationships and at work.

Common personality disorders include:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

The relationship between personality disorders in men and substance abuse is deep and multi-dimensional. This tendency, for most cases, leaves the man with a personality disorder—especially those living with borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder—to exhibit impulsive behaviors and emotional instability, hence readily efficiently placing them at a higher risk of using substances as a means of self–medication.

This self-medication may relieve, for a short time, their intolerable feelings and interpersonal problems. Yet, it usually leads to dependence, worsens psychiatric issues, and is connected to many other serious consequences. Moreover, the risk of substance abuse is even more raised by risk-seeking behaviors and social issues associated with these disorders.

Get Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Jaywalker

At Jaywalker, we recognize that mental health disorders often complicate addiction recovery. Our dual diagnosis treatment program for men addresses both the addiction and any underlying mental health issues at the same time. Integrated care will help our clients reach their long-term recovery goals and lead a healthier, more balanced life. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder and an addiction at the same time, reach out and get started today. Contact Jaywalker to learn more about our dual diagnosis program and how we can help you regain your life.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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