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Alcohol Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental health disorders and alcohol use disorder (AUD) often go hand-in-hand.(1) When they co-occur, each condition may influence the course of the other, regardless of which may have developed first. If left untreated, these co-occurring disorders can result in both an exacerbation of mental health symptoms or lead to increased drinking or other types of substance misuse. Luckily, effective treatment for AUD and co-occurring mental health disorders is available and can help people live healthier, more fulfilling lives.
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What is a Mental Health Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental health disorders are conditions that involve changes in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors; because of such changes, mental illness can result in significant problems with work, family, and social functioning.2

Mental health disorders are common in the United States, with the National Institute for Mental Health reporting that roughly 1 in 5 adults struggle with some form of mental illness.2 In 2019, around 51.5 million American adults had a mental health disorder, with such conditions being more prevalent in women (25.6%) than men (16.3%).3

cocaine and alcohol

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known colloquially as alcohol addiction, is a medical condition characterized by an inability to stop drinking despite the social, occupational, and health problems it causes.5 The compulsive patterns of drinking associated with AUD can lead to alcohol dependence, in which a person needs to continue drinking in order to function and feel normal.6

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Within the realm of addiction medicine, the term co-occurring disorders is used to describe someone having both a mental illness and a substance use disorder (such as AUD). Co-occurring disorders can be serious and present significant challenges to your well-being and ability to function, but recovery is possible with treatment and ongoing aftercare.8

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that approximately 50% of people with severe mental illness also struggle with some type of substance use disorder.6,9 In past estimates, 37% of people who misused alcohol or had an alcohol dependence also had at least one serious mental health disorder.6

depression and alcohol

anxiety and alcoholism

Co-Occurring Disorders vs. Dual Diagnosis

The terms “co-occurring disorders” and “dual diagnosis” may often be used interchangeably, as both broadly refer to the presence of one or more mental health disorders presenting at once. The main differentiator is that co-occurring mental health disorders generally refer to a mental disorder and a substance use disorder (SUD) that share a bidirectional nature (the symptoms of one condition contribute to the symptoms of another, and vice versa).13 Dual diagnosis refers simply to the presence of two or more mental health disorders, with the bidirectional nature not necessarily being present.13

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Alcohol Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment

An integrated approach to treatment for those with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders is necessary to adequately address the symptoms of both.13 Research has shown that this approach has better outcomes than treating either disorder alone.13 Integrated treatment generally involves a combination of behavioral therapies, with or without medication.13 Whether medication is used depends on a person’s specific needs.

Finding Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

If you or a loved one is struggling with a co-occurring mental health disorder and alcohol addiction, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Evidence-based dual diagnosis treatment can lead to positive health outcomes. Once you’ve decided to seek care, you’ll need to go about finding it. A good first step would be to reach out to one’s doctor. They may be able to help determine one’s medical needs and perhaps refer them to a suitable rehab center. Additionally, one may consider visiting the SAMHSA treatment locator to search for programs by zip code.

Addiction helplines, like the one operated by American Addiction Centers, can also be valuable resources for those seeking treatment. Our compassionate staff is available 24/7 to help answer your questions about addiction and co-occurring disorders, help you find suitable rehab centers, and verify your insurance coverage. Don’t delay, call us at .