A Guide To Co-Occurring Disorders And Treatment Options

The relationship between mental illness and addiction is complex, but evidence suggests that those suffering from existing mental or behavioural disorders are more likely to develop addictions as a result. The following provides guidance on a number of different disorders and treatment options for dual diagnosis.

What are Co-occurring Disorders (Dual Diagnosis)?

Co-occurring disorders (COD – also known as dual diagnosis, or occasionally dual pathology) is the condition of suffering from an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol whilst at the same time suffering from a mental illness.

Dual diagnosis, understandably, makes treating an addiction significantly more complex as the therapeutic approach needs to factor in the constraints created by the mental illness (including any medication the addict takes to treat their mental disorder/s) and the latter may have been a significant factor in the emergence of the patient’s substance abuse problem originally (for example, if the person began taking substances of abuse to self-medicate their mental health condition).

People with mental illnesses are more likely than the average to become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and those with co-occurring disorders often face an array of complex challenges over and above their substance addiction.


There is a huge range of mental illnesses and disorders which can be identified in addicts, some of which play a greater role than others in terms of both the development of an addiction and the complications resulting from it. Some of the most commonly occurring conditions are as follows…

Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

Anxiety disorders are a range of conditions characterised by feelings of great anxiety, uncertainty and fear – relating to either current or future events and scenarios – which may be rational but taken to extremes, or entirely irrational.

They may result in symptoms such as increased heart rate, shakiness, and even fainting, and can have a wide variety of causes including genetics and environmental factors.

People with anxiety disorders have a greater-than-average risk of addiction because of the inclination to self-medicate (perhaps drinking or taking drugs to “calm the nerves”) and because anxiety can be treated by any of a number of medications which can themselves be habit-forming, including benzodiazepines.

> More on Anxiety Disorders and Addiction

ADHD and Addiction

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neuro-developmental disorder in which the sufferer finds it difficult to pay attention and remain focused for long periods; is likely to exhibit excessive activity (including fidgeting); and has problems controlling their behaviour, especially in a controlled environment such as school.

ADHD normally manifests before adolescence and can result in impaired academic performance and numerous social issues. ADHD is linked with the development of addictions partly because of its primary symptom of impulsivity.

Children with the condition can be prescribed habit-forming medications (such as Ritalin) and their condition can make them feel isolated or ostracised by their peers, leading to reduced self-esteem and a greater propensity to engage in substance abuse.

> More on ADHD and Addiction

Bipolar and Addiction

Bipolar disorder (traditionally known as manic depression, and frequently still referred to in that manner by people outside the medical community) is characterised by oscillating periods of depression and of abnormally elevated mood – mania – which can result in irrational behaviour.

Those suffering from bipolar disorder are at high risk of self-harm and even suicide during their depressive phases, whilst the manic phases can result in risky behaviour with potentially life-changing consequence.

Substance abuse and subsequent addiction can develop from self-medication (especially during the depressive periods) or from engaging in hedonistic pursuits during manic phases; sufferers are also likely to be prescribed any of a range of medications, some of which can be addictive.

> More on Bipolar and Addiction

Personality Disorders and Addiction

Personality disorders (PD) are a range of mental disorders characterised by behaviour which differs from social norms resulting from problems with cognition, impulse control and inner experience, which set sufferers apart from their peers and society but which may not be recognised by the sufferer as being negative.

Between 40% and 60% of all psychiatric patients are diagnosed as having personality disorders, making them the most frequently diagnosed mental disorders. People with personality disorders may engage in substance abuse to cope with feelings of intense unhappiness and worthlessness.

> More on Personality Disorders and Addiction

Depression and Addiction

Depression is one of the leading contributors to substance abuse and addiction; it is a state of low mood and motivation which can be temporary but can also manifest in a mental disorder known as major depressive disorder (MDD) which can persist for months or years.

Depression tends to be accompanied by low self-esteem, extreme pessimism, very low levels of energy and a disinclination to participate in even low-intensity activities and is a factor in a high proportion of suicides.

Many people suffering from depression self-medicate with alcohol, as well as potentially being prescribed medications which can themselves be habit-forming. Depression can manifest itself as a result of withdrawal from many substances, increasing the risk of relapse in those suffering from it beforehand.

> More on Depression and Addiction

Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Eating disorders are conditions characterised by abnormal eating habits – typically, the consumption of either a greatly reduced or a greatly increased amount of food – which can have a very significant impact upon a person’s physical and psychological wellbeing

Eating disorders are strongly linked with anxiety disorders and depression, and often manifest in adolescents. Those suffering from eating disorders have a significantly enhanced risk of developing substance addiction.

They may self-medicate to cope with depression and feelings of worthlessness and body dysmorphia but are also prone to taking stimulants which can suppress the appetite and/or assist with an exercise designed to lose weight.

> More on Eating Disorders

PTSD and Addiction

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event and manifests in an array of symptoms including; persistent disturbing thoughts, depression, nightmares, obsessive behaviour and self-imposed isolation.

Often misunderstood, PTSD is frequently treated with medication which can become habit-forming, while sufferers commonly self-medicate (especially with alcohol and hard drugs) in an attempt to hide from or bury the memories of the trauma.

PTSD is especially prevalent amongst war veterans, many of whom are unable to return to normal life as a result of their experiences and as a result, may suffer from homelessness which can further exacerbate any substance abuse disorder they may develop.

> More on PTSD and Addiction

Schizophrenia and Addiction

Schizophrenia is characterised by an inability to understand reality, often exacerbated by hallucinations (especially hearing voices), feelings of paranoia and delusions of persecution and/or grandeur, and false beliefs.

Those with schizophrenia are often unable or unwilling to accept that they are mentally ill – especially if they are experiencing complex delusions which may include feelings of persecution and consequent mistrust of medical professionals.

Approximately half of schizophrenics abuse alcohol and/or illegal drugs and research suggests there may be a link between substance abuse and the onset of schizophrenia (though symptoms are very similar to those of stimulant psychosis and alcohol-related psychosis, which can lead to confusions in diagnosis and treatment).

> More on Schizophrenia and Addiction

Treatment Options

For various reasons, treating dual diagnosis can be significantly more complicated than treating “simple” addiction. While the recommended treatment remains residential rehabilitation including detoxification and therapy, it’s vital to choose a treatment facility whose staff are highly experienced in dealing with co-occurring disorders and the particular constraints they impose.


Residential rehabilitation (“rehab”) provides addicts with treatment in pleasant, peaceful surroundings conducive to recovery, in which they have access to medical professionals highly experienced in dealing with all kinds of substance abuse disorders (and can be confident that patient confidentiality is a top priority).

Initially, patients go through a detoxification phase (with medical assistance) and subsequently move into therapy whilst being provided with dietary and fitness regimes aimed at improving their overall health.

Rehab can be attended on either an inpatient or outpatient basis; inpatient stays (typically of between 30 and 90 days) are usually recommended as patients can focus wholly on their recovery.

Banbury Lodge provides a robust treatment programme for those suffering from addiction and mental health/behavioural disorders. Our programme entails a medical detox where appropriate, one to one counselling; a full psychiatric evaluation; medication and therapeutic programmes to help you deal with any underlining problems.

> View Our Rehab Programme For Dual Diagnosis


Medicines can play a very useful role in combating addiction; while there is no “magic bullet” pharmaceutical cure for addiction, various medications can be used to alleviate some of the more unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal, including antidepressants to cope with any substance-induced depression, and benzodiazepines to address anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and muscle spasms

As a result, it is vital that an addict with dual diagnosis does not attempt to self-medicate, as the consequences may be extremely damaging to their health. A doctor should always be consulted ahead of any attempt at detoxification as withdrawal from some substances can prove fatal without the correct treatment.


Therapy lies at the heart of addiction treatment and usually comprises the bulk of any such treatment. As a result of the sheer number of cases of addiction which have emerged in recent decades the weight of relevant psychiatric literature is now very substantial, and numerous therapeutic methodologies have been developed which have proven very effective in treating addiction and substance abuse disorders.

While some common models such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational therapy (MT) are known to be effective in many cases and are typically offered as standard by rehabs.

Support groups are also often an important element of recovery; organisations such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) hold meetings across the UK and sufferers of dual diagnosis may find the peer support they provide vital in resisting relapse even years after completing treatment.

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