Addiction is an interesting disease, in that it is sometimes only a part of an explanation as to what is going on with an individual. Sometimes addiction can cover up other mental health conditions that an addict may be experiencing. It could also very well be the catalyst of the creation of a new mental health disorder that was only brought on by the frequent use of drugs. This phenomenon can create a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, where it is unclear whether the addiction or mental health issue came first. While it is sometimes hard to know if, for a given individual, the addiction caused mental health issues or vice versa, when it comes to treatment both need to be assessed.

  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies show that more than 50 percent of adults diagnosed with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders do not receive treatment for either disorder.
  • Another study based on the data that was collected from the 2008-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that more than 3 percent of U.S. adult population suffers from both a mental health and substance use disorder.
  • Only about 10 percent of adults that have a mental health and substance abuse disorder actually receive help for both.

If these disorders are so prevalent in the U.S. population, it begs the question: why are so few of them seeking and receiving help? The primary reasons that individuals have a hard time seeking help are the inability to afford treatment, lack of knowledge about what kind of care to get or seek out; and a low perceived need to do so. There are also a lot of issues with finding treatment centers that really address both needs at once. Individuals often go to a substance treatment center and address addiction but lack the knowledge to then seek out mental health services.

In the year 2014 alone, 20.2 million adults in the U.S. had a substance use disorder, and 7.9 million of those adults had both a substance use disorder and another mental illness. These statistics are staggering given how many of these people will probably never receive proper treatment. When addressing co-occurring disorders both the mental health issues and the drug or alcohol addiction can have their own types of symptoms and distinguishing their differences can be complicated for someone who is unfamiliar with how to handle them. Most of the time individuals experience symptoms that interfere greatly in their lives including the ability to function at work or school, maintaining a stable home life, handling life’s difficulties and the ability to relate to others. These things can be difficult to manage independently but to make the situation more complicated, these symptoms and disorders can affect one another. This may be hard to catch initially since substances can seem like they are helping with anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders at first, but as substance use gets more and more out of control, mental health issues tend to get more intense.

Co-occurring mental health disorders are often referred to as “comorbidity”, or “dual diagnosis”, and it is often encouraged that these individuals seek treatment for management. Dr. Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction psychiatrist at New York University stated, “Alcoholism and drug abuse addictions and other psychiatric disorders often occur at the same time. However, they are distinct disorders that must be treated as such in order to get a good outcome for the patient”. This is why seeking professional help is so important. Being able to be diagnosed properly and then provided treatment to address all the different parts of the diagnosis is important for a successful recovery and future management of symptoms. Being diagnosed properly (by a medical or treatment center) can also help with a name and symptom checklist of disorders. Being able to know what symptoms are from which disorder and what to expect when living with these conditions is helpful when trying to live a healthy life managing them. Finding the right treatment is important and the sooner medical and professional help can become involved, the more likely that the symptoms can be effectively managed.