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What Are the Consequences of Co-Occurring Disorders?

The fact that America has a chronic, pervasive, and long-standing substance abuse problem shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.  But for those not already in the know, an estimated 20 million Americans aged 12 and over have a substance abuse problem of some kind, according to a study published by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.

It is also worth noting that the same chronic, pervasive, and long-standing substance abuse problem currently affecting the lives of millions of Americans is also costing America a fortune.  According to a separate study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the cost of drug abuse in the U.S. is roughly $740 billion per year, the bulk of which goes to pay for court, healthcare, and addiction recovery costs.  Since we are already on the topic, it is worth noting that some Americans are struggling with addiction and mental illness, otherwise known as a co-occurring disorder, which can drive those costs even higher.

What You Should Know About Co-occurring Disorders

Alone, substance abuse and mental illness can both turn someone’s life completely upside down. But combined, they can be a hellish experience that many would argue is analogous to none. If you haven’t guessed it already, a co-occurring disorder is a substance abuse problem typically coupled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another mental illness. And it is a phenomenon that is sadly quite common in the U.S. To illustrate just how prevalent the phenomenon is, we need only look to a 2018 study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which found that a little over 9 million Americans have a co-occurring disorder.

A Closer Look at How Co-occurring Disorders Are Classified

First and foremost, we should acknowledge the scientific definition of a co-occurring disorder as per the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which refers to such disorders as having two or more substance use disorders or mental illnesses.  It also refers to having a substance abuse problem and at least one mental illness, which describes the vast majority of cases in the U.S. insofar as many Americans have a substance abuse problem and at least one of the following mental illnesses:


  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders

When mental illness becomes part of someone’s overarching problem with substance abuse, it doesn’t take long for things to spiral even further out of control.  That said, some of the drugs commonly abused by those with the above mental illnesses are as follows:

  • Stimulants
  • Prescription drugs
  • Opioids
  • Marijuana
  • Hallucinogens
  • Alcohol

Consequences of Co-Occurring Disorders

There is no denying that purposely abusing drugs while battling a mental illness has consequences, many of which can be severe and even life-threatening.  Bearing that in mind, we should also acknowledge that many people struggling with mental illness often turn to drugs, alcohol, or both to self-medicate.  Unfortunately, in doing so, many of them develop a severe substance abuse problem, which represents only one of the many consequences associated with a co-occurring disorder.  The balance of those consequences typically includes an increased probability of experiencing homelessness, incarceration, medical illnesses, and suffering from suicidal ideations.  In some cases, co-occurring disorders can drive some people to take their own lives.

Bottom Line

The long and short of it is addiction by itself can quickly throw someone’s life into a tailspin, and having a mental illness at the same time only adds fuel to the fire.  But this is not to say there is no hope for individuals struggling with this particular problem.  Many of the more than 14,000 rehab facilities interspersed all across America have programs tailored to address the unique needs of individuals suffering from a co-occurring disorder.  These programs often make it a point to combine counseling with traditional addiction recovery measures.  And when provided by a quality rehab facility, this combination treatment is remarkably effective.  That being said, if you have a co-occurring disorder and need help getting your life back on track, you’re encouraged to speak with one of our friendly associates today. Call us at 844-903-2111.