Skip to main content
351 Burley Ave Lexington, KY 40503 Phone: 859-681-7823 Email:

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

What are co-occurring disorders? We know there are substance use disorders, and there are mental health disorders. But what about when someone suffers with both mental health and substance abuse? That is what co-occurring disorders are. These disorders affect countless people across the world, and affect both men and women. But what exactly does it mean to suffer from co-occurring disorders? What is the treatment? How does one “fix” it? Here we will give answers to some of the more prevalent questions surrounding this type of disorder.

What are Co-Occurring Disorders?

As previously stated, when there are substance use and mental health disorders coexisting within one person, that is what co-occurring disorders refer to. This can mean one disorder and one substance being abused, or it can mean any variation of multiple mental health and substance abuse issues existing at once.

Those who struggle with mental health tend to turn to drugs and alcohol more often than others in order to manage the symptoms of their mental health conditions. Conditions associated with co-occurring disorders often include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Bipolar
  • Schizophrenia

These are just a few of the mental health conditions often seen in conjunction with substance use disorders, and they can lead to the use of any combination of drugs and alcohol. Oftentimes, those who struggle with mental health turn to drugs and alcohol to help them to manage the symptoms they may be experiencing from the mental health concerns. This is not the best solution, however, to the addict or alcoholic, it may seem like the fastest way to find relief.

Some Common Co-Occurring Disorders

What are co-occurring disorders that are commonly seen in addicts and alcoholics? Well, there is no definitive substance that is associated with specific mental health concerns. However, there are some more commonly seen substance and disorder combinations.


Those who suffer from depression are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of self-medicating. Those who turn to alcohol are oftentimes attempting to “drown their sorrows” and trying to heighten their mood. Others use drugs to feel the “high” that they produce, rather than the lows of depression. This helps to relieve the negative thoughts and feelings they may be experiencing due to the depression. Using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate is what leads to addiction.

Anxiety Disorders

When it comes to using drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with anxiety, the feelings produced by drugs like benzodiazepines or opiates can help to ease the mind almost into a state of sedation. This leads the person to believe that they are “feeling better” when in reality, they are just masking the symptoms and creating an addiction. The same rings true with alcohol, the calming effects can seem as though they are a cure to what the person is feeling when it only causes more harm.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It is common among those who struggle with PTSD that drugs and alcohol are used to cope with the symptoms. It can make the person feel like they are OK, without the stress often seen with PTSD.

Dual Diagnosis

What is a co-occurring disorder compared to a dual diagnosis? Well, they are very similar. However, co-occurring disorders tend to refer to mental health conditions coexisting with substance use disorders while dual diagnosis refers to two or more completely separate diagnoses. As an example, a person can have different ailments caused by drug and alcohol addiction, this would be a dual diagnosis. For what a co-occuring disorder is, the drugs and alcohol would be used to self medicate the symptoms of whatever mental health concerns exist.

In simpler terms, what co-occurring disorders are is when the mental health treatment and addiction treatment happen together, in order to manage them.

How to Treat Co-Occurring Disorders

In recent years, it has become common practice to treat mental illness and substance use disorders together. This is due to the fact that they are intertwined and impact one another. When only the substance use or only the mental health is treated, it does not “cure” the other portion of these co-occurring disorders. The best way to address these coexisting conditions is for medical professionals to guide you through the process.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Lexington

If you or a loved one struggle with co-occurring disorders, there is help. Here at Lexington Addiction Center, we provide care that addresses all facets of addiction and mental health. Reach out to us today and let us help guide you to a healthier lifestyle.