20 Jun Co-Occurring Disorders with Drug Addiction

Oftentimes, those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are also struggling with mental health issues. Substance abuse can mask these co-occurring disorders, making it very challenging for the recovering addict undergo a well-rounded healing process if those separate issues are not identified. Here is a look at some of the most common co-occurring disorders that coincide with addiction.

Mood Disorders

Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood related mental health issues see some of the highest rates for co-occurring substance abuse. The National Comorbidity Study, for example, studied those addicted to alcohol and found that depression rates among male alcoholics were three times higher than the general population—and four times higher for female alcoholics. The chemical imbalance in the brain that is associated with mood related disorders predisposes the affected individual to experiencing deeper and more frequent lows in mood, making the likelihood of turning to addictive substances to cope much higher.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder are two examples of anxiety related mental health issues. A person with OCD will generally exhibit unreasonable thoughts and fears, and will practice compulsive behaviors such as hand washing, frequent counting, or constantly asking for reassurances as a result. OCD can also manifest itself as only obsessions or only compulsions in a person. Panic disorder, on the other hand, is a disorder where debilitating fear and anxiety come frequently, often without anything reasonable to cause it. In both cases, this anxiety when left untreated can be so difficult to live with that a person seeks an outlet in the form of an addictive substance to cope.


PTSD generally develops after a person undergoes a traumatic experience involving physical harm or the threat of physical harm. Such experiences that might trigger the development of PTSD are muggings, physical or sexual abuse, car accidents, bombings, and natural disasters. When a person develops PTSD, he or she might feel stress or fear even when the threat of physical harm is not present. A person with PTSD might frequently relive the traumatic event that triggered the disorder’s onset, avoid situations that could recall memories of the event, and exhibit symptoms of hypersensitivity. These are all symptoms that might drive a person to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

Anorexia or Bulimia

Anorexia and bulimia are both emotional eating disorders that involve a distortion in body image. Anorexia is characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight and a refusal to eat, while bulimia is characterized by binge eating followed by purging or intense feelings of guilt. Because of the low self-esteem, guilt, and distorted body image that are so often associated with these eating disorders, those affected with one of these disorders might turn to an addictive substance as a way to cope with these feelings. Moreover, some stimulants like cocaine and meth are actually used to promote weight loss and rid the body of unwanted calories after an eating binge.


Schizophrenia is a brain disorder involving a disconnect between thoughts, emotions, and behavior, which results in a distorted perception of reality, in appropriate behaviors, and delusions. The Epidemiologic Catchment Area study estimates that about 50 percent of those affected with schizophrenia have a history of some form of substance abuse—a much higher rate than that of the general population.

Dr. Craig Georgianna has more than twenty years’ experience working with individuals, couples, and families in a myriad of settings. He specializes in treating substance use, abuse and dependence, trauma, and individuals with sexual and multiple addictions.
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