Co-Occurring Disorders: The Link Between Addiction and Mental Illness

It is hard enough to deal with an addiction, but having a mental illness on top of that makes things even more difficult. A substance abuse problem along with a mental health issue are co-occurring disorders.

Though it sounds complicated, there are many forms of treatment and steps someone can take to recover and get their life back on track.


The Link Between Addiction and Mental Illness

A person with a co-occurring disorder finds it hard to function on a day-to-day basis at work or at school and may have problems maintaining stable relationships. They can also find it more difficult to cope with life’s problems and seek help when needed.

Substance abuse and mental illness live in a kind of dependent relationship with one another; if a mental health issue goes untreated and deteriorates, the substance abuse usually gets worse.

Co-occurring disorders are more common than you think. According to research by the Journal of the American Medical Association, around 50 percent of people with mental disorders are affected by substance abuse and 53 percent of drug abusers have at least one severe mental disorder.

It is also interesting to note that alcohol and drug problems usually occur when someone self-medicates symptoms of mental disorders. This can backfire, making a mental health problem even worse than before and increasing its underlying risks.


Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

There is hope for someone with a co-occurring disorder, but the answer lies in seeking help; addiction and mental health issues only get much worse when one choose to ignore them. With the right support, treatment and addiction programs, one can reclaim their identity again.

An integrated approach is the best kind of treatment for a co-occurring disorder, to treat the substance abuse and mental health issues simultaneously. For a mental disorder, treatment can include therapy ( offers private, affordable and convenient therapy with licensed professionals), group counselling, peer support and medication.

For addiction, this may include:

  • Behavior therapy
  • Support groups
  • Detoxification

As always, thorough research is essential to find the right kind of treatment program. Make sure that it is licensed and accredited, and treatment methods are well-researched with an after-care program for addiction recovery.


Self-Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

While it is important to seek professional help, there are self-help practices an individual can do as part of their treatment plan:

  • Stay connected to others: Meet regularly with people you love and trust and actively participate in social support groups; they are key in your recovery.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes: Exercise regularly, get 7-8 hours of sleep every night and make healthy food choices. Try to avoid people or places that can trigger a relapse.
  • Regulate overwhelming emotions: Learn to cope with stressful emotions as it arises using techniques such as mindfulness, breathing exercises and stress management skills.

Remember that there is always hope. Mental health disorders and addiction problems are treatable and manageable; with courage, commitment and time, people can and do get better and learn to flourish in life again.


About the Author

Marie Miguel

Marie-Miguel - Lakehouse Recovery Center

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics.

Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with

With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.






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