Co-Occurring Disorders 


The term co-occurring disorders refers to an individual having one or more substance abuse disorders and one or more psychiatric disorders at the same time. ( ‘Dual diagnosis’ is an older term for ‘co-occurring disorders’.)

Why are these separate disorders grouped together?

It is important to know if co-occurring disorders exist because each disorder can cause symptoms of the other disorder, leading to slow recovery and a diminished quality of life.

For example, a person with an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder such as depression may abuse drugs to alleviate the symptoms of depression. If the person gets treatment for the drug addiction but not for depression, the depression still exists and the need for relief from its symptoms continues. The person will end up using drugs again to manage the depression symptoms.


Recovery is a journey of healing and transformation enabling a person with a problem to live a meaningful life in a community of his or her choice while striving to achieve his or her full potential.

Addiction is common in people with mental health problems:

According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association . . .

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
  • Thirty-seven percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs.

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

FACTS about Trauma & the rates of Co-Occurring disorders

(from: National Technical Assistance Center for State Mental Health Planning) published in the 2004 report Models for Developing Trauma-Informed Behavioral Health Systems and Trauma Specific Services

  • Individuals with histories of violence, abuse, and neglect from childhood onward make up the majority of clients served by the public mental health and substance abuse service systems.
  • 90% of public mental health clients have been exposed to multiple experiences of trauma (Goodman, Rosenburg et al., 1997)
  • 75% women and men in substance abuse treatment report abuse and trauma histories (SAMHSA/CSAT, 2000)
  • 55% of people served by public mental health services with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse histories reported histories of physical and/or sexual abuse (Maine Dept. Behavioral and Developmental Services, 1998)
  • Teen agers with alcohol and drug problems are 6-12 more likely to have history of being physically abused and 18-21 times more likely to have been sexually abused than those without alcohol and drug problems (Clark et al., 1997)
  • 82% of all teenagers and children in continuing care inpatient and intensive residential treatment programs in the state


Clark, H., McClanahan, T., & Sees, K., (1997). Cultural aspects of adolescent addiction and treatment. Valparaiso University Law Review, 31(2).

Goodman, L., Rosenberg, S., Mueser, K., Drake, R., (1997). Physical and sexual assault history in women with serious mental illness: Prevalence, correlates, treatment, and future research directions. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 23, 685-696.

Maine Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services. (1998). Augusta Mental Health Institute consent decree class member assessment.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). (2000). Substance abuse treatment for persons with child abuse and neglect issues. Treatment improvement protocol (TIP) series. Number 36. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 00-3357. Washington DC: U.S. Printing Office. (