Finding Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment


As we learn more about brain function and mental health, it has become apparent that more adults have a mental illness than may have been realized. This can be things like anxiety, depression, or even a substance abuse disorder.

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Depending on the person, it is possible that they have co-occurring disorders (usually a combination of a mental health issue and a substance abuse disorder). The presence of two or more disorders needs to result in a better quality of care to treat the whole person and not just the issue at hand.

What are Co-Occurring Disorders?

The term refers to having a dual diagnosis of mental illness combined with some sort of substance use disorder. Before one can focus on finding co-occurring disorder treatment, the focus must first be on recognizing the symptoms and achieving an accurate diagnosis.

A substance use disorder includes the use or abuse of drugs or alcohol. At the very least, it is a dependence on a substance that most people do not have. This is in tandem with an accompanying mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, or any number of mental illnesses.

How to Treat Co-Occurring Disorders?

There are a few experts that recommend an integrated form of treatment for those who have co-occurring disorders. What this means is that both the illness and the addiction are treated as one and the same.

There are a couple of specific forms of therapy that have shown themselves to be particularly beneficial, especially for those dealing with co-occurring disorders.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is the form of therapy that can help change the unhelpful behaviors and thoughts that people experience and replace them with a healthier way of behaving and thinking.

This can be a particularly effective form of treatment for those who are living with depression and addiction. Researchers consider CBT to be something of a “gold standard” when it comes to treating the various forms of mental illness such as depression.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

This is a treatment that is meant to reduce particularly harmful behaviors. Those harmful behaviors include actions such as substance use, cutting, and even suicide attempts. Because of its intended use, it is a suitable option for those who have been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders.

What is the Best Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders?

There is some debate as to which form of therapy is best for treating co-occurring disorders. The good thing is that both of them have foundations that are meant to help those who not only have substance issues but mental health issues as well.

Right now, the current preferred method is CBT. This is because it helps to change the way that patients think and behave. It is also one of the preferred methods for dealing with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Because it is considered to be the “gold standard” for handling depression, it only stands to reason as to why it would be effective for co-occurring disorder treatment. Researchers in particular favor this method because of its proven track record.

That said, more and more professionals are getting behind dialectical behavioral therapy as well. The main reason is that this form of treatment is meant to help those who struggle with substance use.

Because the therapy is used to reduce harmful behavior—and substance use is harmful behavior—it can also be an effective means of dealing with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

If push came to shove, CBT would likely be the first method chosen. If that did not have the results that each side desired, then a move to DBT would likely be the next option.

Why Might Someone with a Mental Health Disorder Abuse Alcohol or Drugs?

The unfortunate thing about a co-occurring disorder is that it can be difficult to find the exact cause. Mental health conditions are risk factors for substance abuse in and of themselves. People who have mental illnesses generally use drugs to self-medicate, particularly in the matter of distress or anxiety.

The thing to realize is that drugs might provide temporary relief in the short term but may exacerbate the mental health issues in the long term. Determining whether the addiction or mental illness comes first can be difficult in some instances.

Drug use has the ability to negatively impact brain function. In other terms, it may make a person more likely to eventually develop a mental illness. There are also genetic risk factors as well as environmental risk factors at play such as family patterns and trauma that can lead to the development of both mental illness and addiction. Due to those shared risk factors, the two are sometimes believed to simply go hand-in-hand.


While co-occurring disorder treatment is still somewhat new, it does have some basis to it. The belief is that the disorders are linked to one another and require the same treatment to help deal with those issues.

Though it is still quite new and there is a lot of disagreement on the matter, more and more mental health professionals see the benefits of this form of treatment. Finding one sooner rather than later is essential to finding a path towards improvement.