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Substance abuse does not occur in isolation for many individuals. It is common for substance abuse disorders to coincide with other mental illnesses, a condition known as a co-occurring disorder. Approximately 7.9 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder in 2014, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Despite its prevalence, the complexity of symptoms in a co-occurring disorder can make it difficult to diagnose and even more challenging to treat. Facilities like the Center for Professional Recovery have the expertise and experience necessary to address co-occurring disorders effectively.

Cause and Effect

Determining how a co-occurring disorder develops can also be elusive. In some cases, the mental health disorder is present first, and the individual turns to drugs and alcohol as a means of managing their symptoms. Known as self-medicating, this process may seem to provide some relief – at first. However, as substance use increases and eventually turns to abuse and even addiction, the solution becomes a more significant problem over time.

Other individuals may discover that use of drugs or alcohol brings on the onset of a mental illness like depression or anxiety. In some instances, the condition may have been present but dormant, and the substance use brings the mental illness to light. Drugs and alcohol can also exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness as well as interfering with ongoing treatments that might already be in place.

Co-Occurring Disorders in the Professional World

People in high-profile, high-pressure positions in industries like medicine, law, aviation and business may struggle even harder to keep a mental health disorder private from the outside world. These individuals may be more apt to turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to manage the condition on their own. Once the substance use becomes problematic as well, a vicious cycle can ensue as the professional tries to hide both disorders from their peers, patients and clients. The consequences can be severe as many professionals find their careers and personal relationships in jeopardy over time.

Mental Health Disorders Commonly Seen with Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is associated with a wide range of mental health disorders, including the following:


This disorder is more than feeling “sad” or “blue” on occasion. Clinical depression is marked by extended periods of hopelessness and sadness, coupled with physical symptoms like lack of energy, sleep disruptions and chronic pain. Severe cases can also lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations. Substance abuse is a common byproduct as people struggling with depression might turn to stimulants to increase energy or alcohol to unwind after a busy day.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a common byproduct of life, but when it starts to take over a person’s daily function, it may be considered a mental health condition. Anxiety disorders may be generalized, or they may pertain to fear of a specific event or object, such as a phobia. Severe cases may lead to a person avoiding certain places, things or situations to prevent the anxious feelings from surfacing. Professionals struggling with anxiety may find this disorder significantly impairs their ability to perform their jobs.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, that might happen over a period of hours, days or months. High fluctuations or manic phases lead to increased energy levels, and possible irritability. Low swings or depressive phases might include decreased energy, feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide in extreme cases.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a condition in which a person is plagued with recurrent thoughts or obsessions. To control the thoughts, the person will adopt repetitive behaviors like handwashing, money counting or rechecking things. The actions are not welcome or pleasant, but they can become nearly impossible to stop without professional treatment.


Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD occurs after a life-threatening, traumatic event like an attack, vehicle crash or natural disaster. It is also commonly seen in war veterans that have experienced combat. The condition can appear months or even years after the event and is characterized by horrifying nightmares and flashbacks.


Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are conditions that commonly present during childhood. However, the symptoms can persist into adulthood, making it difficult for some adults to maintain a steady job or have meaningful personal relationships. The presence of this brain disorder can also lead to low self-esteem and a lower quality of life.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

When one of the mental health disorders listed above is accompanied by substance abuse, both conditions must be treated simultaneously to ensure the highest odds of a full recovery. The goal of treatment is to achieve long-lasting sobriety while finding effective ways to manage the mental illness to prevent symptoms from triggering additional substance use. At the Center for Professional Recovery, we are experienced in treating co-occurring disorders in doctors, lawyers, pilots and business executives. We will customize your treatment plan to meet your precise needs while undergoing your therapies in the company of peers, which provides you the necessary support to begin your successful recovery journey. To learn more, contact the Center for Professional Recovery today at 866.298.0056.

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