Addiction Comorbidity, Explained

Young woman suffers from a mental disorder

Jana van der Linde June 26, 2020

Comorbidity is a medical term describing the presence of more than one illness in one person. Addiction is a disorder that seldom occurs in isolation from other mental disorders, making it a disease with a high comorbidity rate. 

In this blogpost, we unpack how addiction and other illnesses go hand-in-hand, what’s likely to cause addiction comorbidity, and treatment for comorbid addiction.  

What Is Comorbidity? 

Comorbidity means a person suffers from two or more illnesses at the same time, or one overlapping with the other. Coined in the 1970s, it describes the presence of two separate conditions in a single person and implies the interaction between the two conditions worsen both. Comorbidity is also called co-existing, co-occurring, dual diagnosis, or dual disorder.

For example, it’s quite common for someone diagnosed with diabetes to also suffer from high blood pressure, a condition called hypertension. This means a common comorbidity of diabetes is hypertension. Mental illnesses commonly considered as comorbid conditions include eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders (SUDs). 

What Is Comorbid Addiction?

Comorbid addiction means a person’s substance use disorder co-occurs with one or more other mental disorders. These conditions can occur simultaneously or one after the other. Although each person’s comorbid diagnosis is unique, substance abuse is often linked with certain psychiatric illnesses. Disorders that commonly co-occur with addiction include: 

  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

It’s common for a person with addiction, or SUD, to later develop another mental illness and vice versa. In fact, research shows that addiction increases the risk of developing associated psychiatric conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders, but it’s also not uncommon for a person with a mood or anxiety disorder to develop a substance use disorder. Does one condition then cause the other?

https://elements.envato.com/mental-health-disorders-file-LSATYMB

Image credit: Oliver Le Moal

What Causes Co-Occurring Disorders?

Despite the connection between addiction and other mental illnesses it’s difficult to pinpoint a clear, causal link between SUD and specific comorbid disorders. But, there are three widely accepted reasons for comorbid addiction. These are:  

Self-medicating

Struggling with an undiagnosed mental health condition like depression or PTSD, people often turn to alcohol or drugs for relief. This self-medicating habit eventually spirals into active addiction while the underlying mental health condition continues to deteriorate. 

Vulnerability to psychiatric disorders increased through chronic substance abuse

Psychiatric disorders are caused by a variety of factors, but the neurochemical changes resulting from chronic substance abuse can trigger symptoms of mental illness. One example is the link between marijuana and intensified symptoms of schizophrenia. 

Addiction exacerbates existing mental illness symptoms

Neuroscience studies have shown how substance abuse can hijack the brain. These studies ultimately show that chemical abuse and addiction exacerbate an existing mental illness and, again, can also trigger new symptoms. 

How Common Is Addiction Comorbidity and How Is It Treated?

Addiction comorbidity is very common with around 50% of people with addiction also suffering from a comorbid disorder. Comorbidity necessitates integrated treatment of all diagnosed disorders. Looking at the statistics, one out of every two people need treatment for both addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions to have a real chance at reaching (and staying) in recovery.  

An integrated treatment approach to comorbid addiction provides the best opportunity for long-lasting recovery results.

An integrated treatment plan concurrently treats all a person’s existing conditions. It calls for a well-coordinated framework of psychiatric and psychological treatment options to help peel back every layer of each condition over time. Research shows an integrated treatment approach to comorbid addiction provides the best opportunity for long-lasting recovery results. 

Get Help for Comorbid Addiction at Silicon Beach Treatment Center 

Silicon Beach Treatment Center provides mental health treatment and drug rehab in Los Angeles. Our integrated services treat substance abuse and co-occurring disorders to help each of our clients restore their mental health equilibrium.

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