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Co-Occurring Disorders

What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

When a teen who is in the throes of addiction also has a mental condition such as depression, they will be given a “dual diagnosis,” also called “co-occurring” or “comorbid” disorders. For example, co-occurring bath salt addiction and antisocial disorder means your child has a dual diagnosis.

Addiction and mental illness are each devastating in their own right; as co-occurring disorders, they can ravage your teen’s life in ways that either disorder alone cannot. Having an untreated dual diagnosis raises the risk of the following problems:

  • Incarceration
  • Homelessness
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Unemployment
  • Unstable relationships
  • Early death by suicide or substance abuse
  • Violent behavior
  • Emergency medical situations
  • Poverty
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

What Is an Addiction?

depressed teen drinking beer

Addiction is a chronic disease wherein the sufferer has no control over their cravings for a substance. Teen drug addiction means your child may continually seek out drugs, even in the face of horrible consequences. Many addiction sufferers want to stop using but simply cannot, because their brain chemistry has changed, causing them to crave their drug above all else. Oftentimes, this disease can only be healed through rehab, where teens are immersed in daily therapy and unable to acquire substances.

What Is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is a chronic condition that negatively impacts a teen’s thinking, behaviors, mood, relationships, and ability to function in society. There are more than 200 classifications of mental illness. Though each carries its own symptoms, all are destructive to a teenager’s health. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, making the adolescent years a crucial time to obtain treatment.

Causes of Co-Occurring Disorders

teen pulling off mask

Both addiction disease and mental disease have myriad causes, some biological and some environmental. Because comorbidity is so complex, cause-and-effect lines are blurred. For example, 1.4% of American teens suffer from comorbid major depression and a substance abuse disorder. At present, there is no medical consensus on which disease begets the other. Presumably, addiction sometimes engenders a co-occurring disorder, while other times the mental disorder is a result of addiction. Regardless of which came first, one thing is certain: after both diseases gain a foothold, they quickly begin to fuel one another.

Addiction Can Trigger Mental Disorders

Almost half of Americans who seek addiction treatment also have a co-occurring mental illness. Some drugs can induce psychiatric symptoms that can have a tremendous impact upon a teenager’s mental health.

For example, if a teenager is addicted to the powerful hallucinogen LSD, that teen might begin to experience severe anxiety. They might have difficulty differentiating real life from hallucinatory experiences and start having regular panic attacks.

Mental Disorders Can Trigger Addiction

Along a similar vein, teens with mental health problems are more likely to suffer from addiction. In fact, teen depression has been linked to a 50% increase the chances a child turns to alcohol use and develops an addiction. When a teen is struggling beneath the weight of a mental illness, substance abuse can be a coping mechanism.

For example, if a teenager is suffering from anorexia, they might turn to painkiller abuse to help cope with the anguish of anorexia. Eating disorders — which have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and are rarely healed without professional intervention — are even more lethal when combined with addiction.

Signs of Dual Diagnosis

stressed teenage boy

Because comorbid disorder combinations are so numerous and mental disorders have wildly varying effects, it can be difficult to pinpoint symptoms. However, some common themes found in teens with comorbid disorders are as follows:

  • Inability to hold a job
  • Strained social relationships
  • Constantly shifting emotions
  • Financial problems
  • Arrests or legal issues
  • Behavior problems at school
  • Sudden decline in academic performance
  • Personality changes
  • Symptoms of addiction

Does Your Child Need Dual Diagnosis Treatment?

Co-occurring disorders in teens are usually more complicated to treat than addiction or mental illness alone. This is because the disorders have been feeding off of one another and exacerbating each other’s symptoms. However, recovery is possible for everyone, no matter how severe the issues — the key is to find the right help. Oftentimes, when a teen receives a dual diagnosis, an integrated rehab program is the best route back to health.

Integrated dual diagnosis treatment has proven effective for those suffering from co-occurring disorders, as it encourages teens to make incremental changes to every aspect of their lives. In the past, teens with substance abuse problems were confined to rehab facilities that only focused on their addictions. However, the integrated method combines mental illness and substance abuse treatment, so that teens are simultaneously learning skills to recover from both problems.

For example, a teen who has been drinking alcohol every time they feel anxiety rise will learn to deal with their anxiety head-on. In turn, the lack of anxiety will reduce the teen’s need for alcohol.

Medication is frequently used to help treat mental illness. Addressing mental problems makes it easier to delve into substance abuse disorders since mental illness can cloud the symptoms of drug abuse. For example, if a teen who suffers from anxiety is also addicted to cocaine, their treatment team might prescribe a mild tranquilizer to alleviate their anxiety. Once their anxiety symptoms are reduced, cocaine addiction symptoms become clearer and able to be addressed more effectively.

Get Customized Drug Rehab for Your Teen

depressed teen at end of tunnel

The best therapeutic models hone in on your teen’s behavior and thought patterns, and aim to replace those maladaptive habits with positive ones. Multisystemic methods like integrated drug treatment have proven especially effective in treating adolescent populations who suffer from addiction.

Here at Next Generation Village, we focus on healing the whole person and not just the exhibited symptoms. This integrated, holistic approach to co-occurring disorders allows us to help your child build long-term recovery.

If your teen has an addiction, take the first step and reach out. We are here to talk you through drug treatment programs for helping your teen recover. Our help is always available and always free.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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