Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Up to 80% of people with substance use issues also have mental health issues. Since the 1980s, this has been known in the Addiction and Recovery arena as “dual diagnosis”, with addiction and mental health being treating in tandem. In more recent years, the term “co-occurring disorders” has seen more use. A person with a co-occurring disorder diagnosis might deal with multiple simultaneous issues.

For example: Dean is addicted to crystal methamphetamine (addiction). He also suffers from PTSD and depression (mental health) and has been diagnosed as HIV-positive (physical health). While common practice would see all of these diagnoses treated individually, the co-occurring disorder model allows for the understanding that each issue can greatly impact the others.

Dean’s PTSD might trigger substance use, which can trigger depression, which can cause him to neglect treatment for HIV. The impact of untreated physical illness can trigger deeper mental health issues, leading to more substance use to avoid feeling the resulting pain and/or shame.

Only about 9% receive treatment for both addiction and mental health, while more than half get no treatment at all. These statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) don’t even take into account the number of people who do not receive adequate medical care for physical issues.

The next time you see someone suffering with addiction, pause and remind yourself that you don’t know the whole story. It’s never as simple as “just stop using.” Let’s work together to eliminate the stigmas associated with addiction and mental health.