The 5 Most Common Co-occurring Disorders with Drugs and Alcohol


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Drug and alcohol abuse are typically seen as the root causes for various other illnesses that can occur when an individual is using. This theory has been shattered by recent developments in the mental health world. A more appropriate statement is that substance abuse may actually be a symptom of having a more severe mental illness.

Mental illnesses or psychological disorders can lead to problems with substance abuse if the individual tries to self-medicate. There are numerous circumstances by which this applies, but one of the more common examples is attention deficit disorder leading to marijuana or opiate use. The chemical imbalance in the brain uses substances in an attempt to balance itself out. The uppers and downers act as an equalizer of sorts, at least for a short period of time.

Substance abuse may actually be a symptom of having a more severe mental illness. Here are 5 disorders that tend to linger amid substance abuse issues.

After the various substances have become familiar with the body, an individual’s tolerance level rises and so more must be ingested to keep the prior illness at bay. This can often lead to addiction, which then becomes a co-occurring illness. At this stage both illnesses are just as bad and one cannot be treated without also addressing the other. Here are the 5 most common disorders that can occur with drug and alcohol abuse.

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is most commonly seen in war veterans who return home from active duty to find themselves lost in civilian life. Early diagnoses of this disease were recognized as early as WWII, but it was not fully recognized until after the Vietnam War. The lack of knowledge about PTSD left military personnel with seemingly no other alternative than to use recreational drugs as medicine. Fear is a part of war but not necessarily a part of civilian life. In order to drone out or numb the high levels of anxiety, alcohol or other depressants are frequently used to deal with the symptoms.

2. Pathological Gambling

Gambling addiction has been a common occurrence throughout history, but little information is actually known about its root causes. Depression or other cause-and-effect illnesses can be traced but pathological gambling is linked to a different part of the game. Adrenaline is a common objective for a pathological gambler, which can lead to other reckless behaviors such as using substances. Along with AA and NA there is also GA (Gamblers Anonymous), which shows how disorders travel hand-in-hand.

3. Bipolar Disorder

The highest of highs and lowest of lows in being bipolar can lead individuals to engage in drug and alcohol use due to their extreme mood swings. Initially the chemicals can seemingly help lessen the variety of the mood swings, but as described earlier it is not a concrete fix. By using downers like opiates and alcohol, a person who suffers from bipolar disorder can actually do more harm than good for their current mood. The erratic and chaotic shifts that they feel inside are unpredictable and when substance abuse is added into the mix, things only get worse.

4. Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a difficult co-occurring disease because in many ways it surfaces much in the same way that drug and alcohol abuse does. It is difficult for police officers to often tell if the suspect is suffering from mental illness or if they are merely under the influence of a substance. Unlike the illnesses listed above, there is no substance that can even temporarily help with the symptoms of schizophrenia. When amphetamines are taken by those with schizophrenia it is common to have an even worse reaction than if taken by a medically sound individual. Substance abuse can also prevent the individual with schizophrenia from seeking help from medical professionals.

5. Eating Disorders

Those who suffer from eating disorders are estimated to have a 50 percent chance of also having a substance abuse problem. Although the direct correlation is unknown, there are many practical applications that those with eating disorders can use substances for. Alcohol intake can make vomiting easier and pharmaceutical diet pills can also be abused. Amphetamines are also commonly found to be abused because of its ability to suppress a person’s appetite.

If you or someone you know is seeking help, visit our directory of treatment centers and mental health professionals or call call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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