What Types of Co-Occurring Disorders Are There?

3. May 2016

As fickle as health may be, we often take our health for granted. The reason for this is because many of the things that we need to maintain our health are ingrained in our daily life: We eat regularly, sleep regularly, maintain our hygiene, and most of us get a reasonable amount of physical activity. Once a person has incorporated these behaviors into a daily routine, it’s not difficult to remain in a general state of physical wellness. However, it’s become increasingly common for people to neglect their own needs, causing them to begin losing their health.

Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of potential health concerns that a person could have, some of which are physical while others are mental or emotional. While that may seem bleak, the majority of health afflictions won’t prevent a person from living a relatively normal, healthy life. But for all the health conditions that don’t significantly affect a person’s quality of life, there are some that can cause severe deterioration and destruction.

Addiction is one such illness that inevitably has a momentous effect on anyone who becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs. Rather than being physical or psychological like mother other affliction, an addiction to alcohol or drugs is both; the disease saps a person of his or her physical health and wellness, causes significant psychological deterioration, damages or destroys a person’s important relationships, causes him or her to lose jobs and other opportunities. The cumulative effects are catastrophic and cannot be understated.

While definitely a disease, there is surely an argument to be made that addiction is much more similar to psychological disorders than physical health diseases. In fact, when a person suffers from an addiction to alcohol or drugs, the addiction is sometimes referred to as a substance use disorder or alcohol abuse disorder. According to the evidence, the suggestion that addiction is a mental illness isn’t unfounded, especially since it’s been found to be extremely common for people who suffer from addiction to also suffer from an additional, secondary disorder.

Mental Illness and Comorbidity

The term “mental illness” is considered to be a blanket phrase that refers to a wide variety of afflictions, all of which occur to or in the brain. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a mental illness is defined as a type of illness that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to function, and ability to relate to others, occurring on a day-to-day rather than an isolated basis. And although each type of mental illness has a number of identifying characteristics, mental illnesses have a large degree of variability, affecting each person in a somewhat different manner; additionally, some mental illnesses have a greater level of variance in terms of the effects, making them somewhat more difficult to detect, diagnose, and treat.

Typically, a mental illness will affect one specific part of the brain. Many of the effects of a disorder are dependent upon the area of the brain wherein the disorder has developed and is affecting. But identifying what causes the actual development of a mental illness isn’t quite so simple because the origin of mental illness can be genetic, environmental, and due to factors of lifestyle. However, with mental illnesses often being isolated in specific, separate parts of the brain, it’s very common for people to develop and suffer from two or more co-occurring disorders. When more than one mental illness develops in one person, it’s referred to as comorbidity.

many faces of girl screaming

Addiction and Emotional Disorders

Although it’s not completely medically accurate, the term “emotional disorders” is often contextually or colloquially used to refer to mental illnesses that involve disturbances or instability of one’s emotions. The most common emotional disorders are anxiety disorders and depressive disorders. Additionally, mental disorders that are emotional in nature are the most common mental illnesses as a whole. With unstable emotions being the central characteristic of this type of disorder, it should come as very little surprise that people who become addicted to alcohol or drugs have co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety disorder. The consensus is that individuals who suffer from so-called emotional disorders are more likely to attempt to self-medicate by whatever means available to them, which essentially ends up being with alcohol and drugs. However, there are those who assert that it’s actually the opposite; that people who are alcohol and drug abusers end up with such altered brain chemistry due to their substance abuse that they develop emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, aggression, bipolar disorder, and other forms of emotion-based, co-occurring disorders.

Addiction and Mental Disorders

There is an entire spectrum of mental disorders that vary greatly. Some conditions are present from birth, such as autism, while others develop over the course of one’s life or even in old age, which is the case with mental disorders or diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Schizophrenia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are two other mental disorders that are somewhat common. Unfortunately, many of the mental disorders that exist are co-occurring mental disorders alongside an addiction to alcohol and drugs. As is the case with emotional disorders and with instances of prior trauma, many of these individuals take to medicating their symptoms with alcohol and drugs, indicating that the mental disorder occurred first while the addiction develop later as an unintended side effect. However, it’s possible that addiction and certain mental disorders affect certain areas of the brain, which would mean they would likely develop simultaneously.

Addiction and Trauma

When a person has a very traumatic experience that has lingering effects, it’s possible that he or she will develop a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. In most cases, the traumatic event involved some type of violent or sexual abuse or some other type of event that caused a person to feel helpless and/or as if his or her life is in danger. The lingering effects of these types of instances include flashbacks—when some type of trigger causes a person to feel like he or she is reliving the traumatic experience—and severe stress and anxiety. Due to the nature of these effects, people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have exhibited elevated rates of substance abuse and addiction. Since it’s a disorder that’s experiential in origin, post-traumatic stress disorder co-occurring alongside addiction is almost exclusively going to be instances of people using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate due to the lingering effects of traumatic experiences in their pasts.

Call Intervention Services today to begin the journey to health

Nobody deserves to continue living in the throes of active addiction. If you have a loved one who is suffering from addiction and would like to discuss your options, call Intervention Services toll-free at 877-478-4821. We’re available anytime, day or night, ready to help your loved one get back his or her health, happiness, and sobriety.