In 2010, a survey was done by the National Survey on Drug Use, and Health found that 45% of individuals with an addiction problem had a co-occurring mental disorder. Currently, the article ‘dual diagnosis’ is replaced with the term ‘co-occurring disorder’ that refers to a person having a substance-use illness and a co-existing mental disease. Four years later, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that about 8 million individuals in the US experience a mental disorder and addiction simultaneously.

Furthermore, 8 million people represent about 40% of the population that was experiencing addiction in 2014. The National Institute on Drug Abuse records that patients who are experiencing anxiety or mood fluctuations are about twice more likely to develop a drug disorder. Likewise, individuals with substance use disorders are nearly twice as prone to be diagnosed with a mental health disease. According to SAMHSA, about 7% of the 9 million individuals that have an overlapping mental disorder and addiction receive treatment for the two conditions. Moreover, approximately 60% of these people do not receive treatment for both illnesses.


Comorbidity is the co-existence of two medical conditions such as substance abuse and mental illness. Moreover, neither of the two diseases causes the other, and one illness can make the manifestation of the other worse. People fighting addiction have their brains rewired by the drug they use, thereby clouding their judgement and mental function. Furthermore, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia affect the same areas that substance abuse rewire, thereby complicating the condition.

Research indicates that some mental illnesses enhance the risk factors for developing substance abuse. These studies indicate that people experiencing mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder might turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism for the anguish these diseases might pose in their lives. Currently, research is underway to establish the exact causal relationship between substance use and mental illnesses.

Causes of the comorbidity.

Although data indicates a high rate of co-occurrence between mental illness and addiction, none of the two conditions caused the other even when one appears first. According to NIDA, one must take into account numerous factors that might promote a co-occurrence of substance abuse and mental illness. For instance, NIDA states that drug abuse makes people experience symptoms of mental illness, or people can develop addiction while trying to self-medicate mental disorders. Some studies indicate that brain deficits, trauma, and genetics can cause simultaneous mental conditions and addiction. Research estimates that 40% to 60% of someone’s vulnerability to substance abuse might stem from genetics. Scientists have implicated some areas of the human gene that predispose one to develop both mental illness and substance abuse. Adolescence and early age is a risk factor for developing both addiction and mental health disorders. During adolescence, individuals are developing, growing, and maturing, which causes significant brain changes that might make them prone to act impulsively and take more risks. Such behaviors can influence the likelihood of developing addiction and mental disorders. Furthermore, if a person begins substance use at such an early age before their brain fully develops, the drugs can permanently alter their brains increasing their risk of developing a mental disease.

External factors are known to trigger substance abuse and mental disorders from excessive stress, sexual or physical abuse, trauma, and war zones. Additionally, detrimental experiences, such as poverty, neglect, and unsafe environments, can affect the brain’s processing power. US veterans reporting back from war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, 1 out of 5 have major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Furthermore, according to research, about half of all military servicemen with PTSD concurrently have a substance abuse problem.

Difficulty in diagnosing both conditions.

When disorders co-occur, it is difficult to diagnose them because the manifestations are complex and differ in severity. Therefore, most people receive therapy for one illness, and the other is left untreated. The symptoms of the disorders might overlap, making it difficult for physicians to distinguish the two illnesses and end up treating only one.

Inadequate screening and training because many undiagnosed, under-treated, and untreated co-occurring disorders might lead to a high likelihood of suicides, jail time, and medical diseases. Most people with mental illnesses and misuse drugs like alcohol and cocaine are at an elevated risk of carrying out violent and impulsive acts, which makes the diagnosis of comorbidity difficult.

Treatment for existing comorbidity.

Physicians recommend that co-occurring disorders should be treated simultaneously, and an integrated treatment achieves the best therapy outcomes. Additionally, integrated treatment is cost-effective and affordable when compared to other options. Early diagnosis and treatment of a co-morbid have an immense impact on an individual’s quality of life and recovery.

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