What is the Common Comorbidity in Substance Abuse?

The most common comorbidity alongside substance abuse is anxiety or major depression. Read on to learn more about treatment options.

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What is Comorbidity?

Comorbidity refers to any two or more co-occurring illnesses. Comorbidity in substance abuse also entails how the individual’s dependence and health complications may exacerbate current symptoms or create new ones.


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Treating Comorbidity

For those who suffered with co-occurring disorders in the past, there were generally not adequate treatment options available that looked at both disorders. However, medical professionals have made efforts in the last couple of decades to consider this important element in the recovery process. 

Despite these steps forward, diagnosing and treating comorbidity in substance abuse still has its fair share of challenges that must be addressed. For many co-occurring disorders, it’s difficult to figure out which disorder or set of symptoms started first. This is why treating both disorders together is vital for holistic healing.

Comorbidity vs. Dual Diagnosis

Comorbidity and dual diagnosis are two different terms that are often used interchangeably. Comorbidity describes any two disorders occurring together, whereas dual diagnosis means that a person is diagnosed specifically with a mental health and substance abuse disorder. Studies show that more than half of those diagnosed with serious mental illness also have substance abuse.1

Comorbidity Statistics

Comorbidities are more prevalent than you may think, as shown by:2

  • 7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders
  • Out of the 20.3 million adults dealing with substance use disorders, 37.9% also have mental illnesses
  • Out of the 42.1 million adults with mental illness, 18.2% also have substance use disorders
  • Data shows that 34.5% received mental healthcare only while 3.9% received substance use treatment only

Comorbidity Causes and Diagnosis

Some comorbidities can occur together seemingly randomly, while others are connected via shared behavioral, genetic, and environmental factors. Some of the ways in which comorbidities can be linked include:

  • Overlapping risk factors
  • One condition occurs because of complications associated with another
  • A third condition causing both conditions

In addition, comorbidities may be physical or mental in nature and can even lead to long-term concerns. Getting treatment as soon as possible for co-occurring disorders can help you with any symptoms relating to either your mental health disorder, your substance abuse disorder, or both. 

How Is Comorbidity Diagnosed?

When looking for a medical provider to help treat your symptoms, it’s important to make sure that they are knowledgeable in more than one area. In the case of substance abuse and mental health disorders, working with a treatment counselor may be most beneficial, as they know how these conditions can exacerbate or interact with each other. 

For other health conditions, a good example is if someone has an autoimmune disease that is also affecting their eyes and joints. A healthcare provider that understands comorbidity should look into autoimmune pain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, instead of non-autoimmune diseases.

Comorbidity Conditions

Common comorbidities associated with substance abuse include major depression and anxiety, but any other condition can be present, including bipolar disorder, psychosis, personality disorders, and others. 

Anxiety disorders are often seen in substance abuse. The extent of the relationship varies depending on the substance, with cannabis use disorder having the highest prevalence. Even though anxiety comorbidity rates are high, anxiety disorders are still underdiagnosed, mainly in drug abuse treatment settings.

Other Comorbidity Examples

Some other common comorbidities associated with substance abuse include:3
  • Personality Disorders: Drug use disorders and personality disorders, mainly borderline personality disorder, are commonly diagnosed together. Other personality disorders that may be associated with substance abuse include obsessive-compulsive disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Eating Disorders: Substance use problems can start before or during an eating disorder, even after one has recovered from one or the other. Individuals struggling with co-occurring disordered eating and substance use need to speak with trained professionals that can diagnose and treat both conditions.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children and teenagers with ADHD have a higher possibility of smoking, drinking, or using drugs compared to other children. These children also face the greatest risk of developing substance use disorder.

Psychiatric Comorbidities

Psychiatric comorbidities are defined as the co-existence of two or more psychiatric disorders, substance use disorder being one of them. This can have a significant impact on overall health and mortality.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

There are various warning signs that you should pay attention to in relation to comorbidities, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Joint disease
  • Sensory impairment
  • Dementia and other mental health issues
  • Arthritis
  • Cerebrovascular disease

These signs and symptoms expose you to the likelihood of developing another. For instance, in the case of mental health and drug abuse, anxiety and depression may cause someone to abuse drugs. These can then lead to addiction (substance use disorder).4

Co-Occurring Disorder Risk Factors

Common risk factors for most comorbidities include:

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Diabetes
  • High bad cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Genetic predisposition for substance abuse or other health factors
  • Smoking or passive smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity

What Are Treatment Options?

Treating and managing comorbidities can feel quite complicated. That’s where your healthcare team comes into play. They can closely monitor you to ensure you are on the right treatment plan. 

When diagnosed with comorbidities, you should visit a healthcare specialist for your particular conditions. Any information you can give your health care providers will assist them in considering all of the issues and curating a treatment plan that suits your needs, preference, and tolerance.

Wellness Professionals

Sometimes your treatment plan may span across more than one specialist. You may also end up meeting with specialists and caregivers such as:

  • Occupational therapists
  • Counselors
  • Nurses
  • Specific doctors in specific settings
  • Physical therapists

Even as you undertake such a treatment plan, it is important to have a primary doctor as your main caregiver, as they can be your main point of contact and support throughout your dual diagnosis treatment.

Contact Profound Treatment Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with comorbidities or co-occurring disorders, get in touch with us today to start your journey toward diagnosis and treatment for substance abuse. We take the time to listen to your specific needs so that we can curate an individualized treatment plan that works for you. We offer both evidence-based treatment options along with holistic remedies as well. 

Reach out to us today with any concerns, and we’ll get you started on the path to recovery.

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