Understanding Mental Disorders and Addiction

There is no denying that there is a definite link between mental disorders and addiction. In fact, recent research reveals that this link might be stronger than was once believed. When an addiction is present alongside a mental health disorder, this is known as a co-occurring disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders can make it so difficult for people to overcome their addictions. This is because they use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms. A psychological disorder can affect everything about a person; including the way they see themselves and the world around them. It can be difficult to say which came first; the mental health issue or the addiction. Regardless, what usually happens is that the two end up feeding into each other. This only serves to perpetuate both problems.

It's quite common for people with addictions to be suffering from a co-occurring disorder. When this is the case, they often feel trapped, and as though there's no way to recover from either problem.

Treating co-occurring disorders at the same time as addictions is the best way to help people experience recovery.

Perhaps this is the situation that you've found yourself in. Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition or not, you may still have one. You may have been using drugs or alcohol as a dysfunctional way to cope with your symptoms. Many people do because they don't see any other option for them. If this has been your experience, please know that there is something you can do to get help.

Dual diagnosis treatment can provide you with the additional help you need. It addresses both conditions at the same time, and yields better recovery results.

It all begins by learning more about the connection between mental health and addiction.

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

There are a number of different co-occurring disorders that can occur alongside addiction. These disorders include:

When people are diagnosed with depression, they often feel hopeless, sad, irritable and guilty. They may or may not have suicidal thoughts. Depression affects the amount of sleep they get, their food intake and their interest in various activities.


People who have anxiety disorders frequently have irrational fears that interfere with their lives. They struggle with interpersonal relationships, maintaining employment and even just getting through the day. The anxiety may plague every facet of their lives, even emotionally paralyzing them at times.


When someone suffers from a panic disorder, they are often struck with intense fear. These panic attacks can strike at any time, and episodes can last for hours. There can be physical side effects that accompany panic attacks. It's common to feel a tightening in the chest, a racing hear rate and tremors. They are not usually life threatening, and even the most mundane activities can trigger them.

Panic Disorder

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition is brought on by a traumatic event that takes place in one's life. The event generally brings on fear, and it could be something relating to the individual or someone else. When the fear is not resolved correctly, it can lead to flashbacks, nightmares and other behaviors. These can last for years, producing a state of constant emotional instability.


There are a number of different eating disorders that can occur alongside addictions. Bulimia, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder are just a few of them. An eating disorder is centered around self-destructing behaviors that involve food intake and exercise.

Eating Disorders

For someone who suffers from Bipolar disorder, he or she is incredibly emotionally unstable. It causes severe depression and mania, and these two extremes can shift dramatically within a short amount of time. The low periods are often characterized by hopelessness, fatigue and extreme sadness. The high periods are often characterized by risk taking behaviors, high energy levels and extreme emotions.

Biploar Disorder

For those who have Obsessive-compulsive disorder, they generally participate in rituals that interfere with their lives. This might involve obsessive cleaning rituals, washing hands or counting objects in their homes. The rituals serve to distract them from haunting thoughts and images, but they take a lot of time.


When someone has difficulty building and maintaining relationships, that individual may suffer from a personality disorder. There are different types, including borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. They affect the way you see yourself and others.

Personality Disorders

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects the way you see the world around you. People with schizophrenia often have delusions or hallucinations. Their thoughts are disorganized, and they may have trouble verbalizing what they're thinking. Psychotic episodes associated with schizophrenia can be particularly difficult, and often lead to addictions.


People often think of ADD or ADHD as something that affects children. However, this is not always the case. Many adults carry their symptoms into adulthood. Someone with ADHD or ADD may be very disorganized, have trouble focusing, and struggle to fulfill his or her responsibilities. It may be difficult for this individual to hold down a steady job, or maintain fulfilling relationships.


Postpartum depression is a type of depressive disorder that can occur after a woman has a baby. It is characterized by insomnia, loss of appetite and problems with bonding with the baby. If it is not treated, it can continue for months. Those who develop postpartum depression are at a significant risk for developing depressive disorder later on.

Post Partum Depression

This mental health condition (often referred to as SAD) is directly related to the changes in the seasons. It begins in the fall, and will continue through the winter months, or even until spring. It is characterized by depression, social withdrawal and general feelings of hopelessness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For those suffering from social anxiety disorder, their everyday interactions can cause irrational fear and anxiety. They are frequently embarrassed and feel self-conscious much of the time. They will avoid social situations at all costs, and remain constantly fearful of being judged or humiliated.

Social Anxiety

There are many different types of sleep disorders that can be linked with addictions. Some of the more common types include restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy and sleepwalking. These disorders can make it impossible to get a good night's sleep. This can affect the way the person suffering from them feels during the day.

Sleep Disorders

Although the mood shifts with cyclothymic disorder aren't as severe as those with Bipolar disorder, they can still be difficult. Individuals with Cyclothymia are usually able to function during the day, but they have difficulty maintaining relationships. Their symptoms can become much worse over time.

Cyclothymic Disorder

There are many different types of sexual disorders. They range from problems like erectile disorder and female orgasmic disorder to sex addiction and fetishistic disorder. When they are not treated, they can easily lead to addiction as a way to cope.

Sex Disorders

Phobias are types of anxiety disorders. They are characterized by having strong, irrational fears about a particular object or situation. There is generally no need to be concerned at all. For some, phobias can become so debilitating that they feel isolation is their only option.


The Mental Health and Addiction Connection

For those who suffer from both a mental health condition and an addiction, they often suffer serious consequences. One condition tends to spur the other on. This creates a dangerous cycle needs to be disrupted in order for recovery to take place.

When someone suffers from a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, the symptoms are very hard to manage. They may experience feeling hopeless, having problems with motivation or having terrible thoughts. Unless treatment for the mental health condition is sought, the individual is likely to look for something else to help. As a result, they often turn to drugs or alcohol.

At first, it may seem as though substances help the symptoms quite a bit. People use to find relief, and for a while, it works. The problem is actually twofold. Drinking or using drugs to help mental health conditions rarely works as a long-term remedy. Eventually, the substance abuse can exacerbate symptoms. Continuing to use substances is also very likely to lead to an addiction.

According to SAMHSA, co-occurring disorders are actually much more common than people think. They state that:

43 Million

Number of people in 2014, in the US that suffered from some type of mental illness.

9.8 Million

Were believed to have a serious mental illness that affected their lives.

20 Million

During that same year the number of adults over the age of 18 that had a substance use disorder.

8 Million

Out of the 20 Million also had a mental health disorder that needed treatment.

Many mental health disorders emerge during the childhood years, and yet, go untreated.

The problem is that the line between addiction and mental illness can easily become blurred. In some cases, the mental illness leads to the addiction, whereas in other cases, it's the addiction that causes the mental illness.

In order to effectively treat individuals who suffer from both, a new treatment method was needed.

Dual diagnosis treatment (also called integrative addiction treatment) offers hope to people with co-occurring disorders. It addresses all their needs. By treating addiction and co-occurring disorders simultaneously, patients are found to have better outcomes. Their instances are relapse are also dramatically reduced. This type of alcohol and drug rehab has truly changed the addiction treatment industry. More people are experiencing long-term recovery because of it.

Signs of an Alcohol or Drug Addiction

There are a number of different signs of addiction that are typical for someone who is using actively. These signs include:

  • Experiencing sudden changes in mood or personality
  • Exhibiting poor performance in school or at work
  • Having little to no appetite
  • Having problems with sleeping at night
  • Feeling fatigued during the day
  • Experiencing symptoms of depression
  • Having symptoms of anxiety
  • Becoming hyperactive
  • Frequent sensations of euphoria
  • Becoming paranoid
  • Brain fog or forgetfulness
  • Becoming socially withdrawn

These and other symptoms are clear indicators that an addiction is present. However, they can often become confused with signs of mental illness.

Signs of a Mental Illness

Signs of a mental illness include:

  • Becoming easily angered
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Having irrational fears
  • Having hallucinations or delusions
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Sensations of euphoria

It's easy to see where the lines can quickly become blurred after comparing these two lists. Even so, the fact remains that when someone suffers from a mental illness, they are much more prone to addiction. It's also important to note that someone with an addiction probably has a different brain chemistry than someone who doesn't. For example serotonin and dopamine are directly affected by the use of drugs or alcohol.

These neurotransmitters are responsible for maintaining mental health, as well as performing other jobs in the brain. When substances throw the process off, the result can easily become the emergence of a mental illness.

Fortunately, dual diagnosis treatment has been proven to be effective at treating co-occurring disorders successfully.

How Dual Diagnosis Treatment Can Help

Not all addiction treatment facilities are equipped to handle the challenges of treating patients with co-occurring disorders. Unfortunately, there are still people suffering from them in the U.S. who are forced to get treatment separately. This generally does nothing to benefit the patient because the root issues are never identified and treated.

If you're suffering from a co-occurring disorder, dual diagnosis treatment offers you hope for recovery. It truly doesn't matter if you have ever been diagnosed with a mental illness before. It also doesn't matter if your mental illness occurred after the addiction took hold. You can still get help.

Dual diagnosis treatment combines addiction treatment and treatment for mental illness in a way that's very effective. We can provide you with the support and help you need here at Northpoint Washington.

Do you have a co-occurring disorder that you need to be treated for?

Contact us today to get started.