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Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is usually more intensive than for one specific disorder. Learn more here.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder is a condition characterized by the presence of two disorders or illnesses in a person. Although the term “co-occurring disorders” can refer to any combination of diseases and disorders, it is mostly used to describe a condition where a person suffers from substance use disorder and any mental health disorder.

Among other conditions, co-occurring disorders may include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety disorders.

Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders

Are Co-Occurring Disorders Normal?

People seeking treatment for mental health or addiction issues frequently have co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are rather prevalent, even if patients with this diagnosis might not have received treatment for both. In a 1990 survey of more than twenty thousand American adults, 53% of those who reported a substance use disorder also had a co-occurring mental health disorder.[1]

Conclusively, co-occurring disorders are common occurrences for people who suffer from a mental or substance use disorder.

Who is Most at Risk?

Out of the millions of people in the US who suffer from co-occurring disorders, research shows that over half of them are men. Additionally, there is a higher chance of co-occurring substance use disorders in those with anxiety and depression.

Generally, people who have a mental health disorder or a substance use disorder are at risk of developing a co-occurring disorder.

Co-Occurring Treatment Process

Since the 1990s, there has been a continuous increase in the treating co-occurring disorders, and rates are anticipated to continue to rise as we enter the next decade.[2]

The treatment process for co-occurring substance use disorder treatment will be detailed below.


Co-occurring substance abuse and mental disorders are usually difficult to diagnose because the symptoms of one disorder can mask the symptoms of the other.

Due to the difficulty in diagnosing co-occurring disorders, clients may start treatment for one disorder while neglecting the other. However, in most cases, there are no improvements without treating both at the same time. This is an indicator that the individual might be suffering from co-occurring disorders.  

Treatment Program

The treatment program for co-occurring disorders is most often an inpatient residential treatment program that combines psychotherapy and medication (in some cases) to treat the disorders. Experts recommend simultaneous treatment of both diagnosed disorders. This is referred to as the integrated treatment program.[3]

Different forms of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy are core aspects of the treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Treatment Plan

A treatment plan is an individualized written document that serves as a roadmap for the recovery process. This is essential to provide structure and keep both the treatment team and the client focused on the purpose of treatment.

A sample treatment plan for co-occurring disorder will usually be a table with three columns. One for the problem, the other for the intervention, and the last one for the goal. With a clear and individualized treatment plan, the client does not feel lost or excluded from their treatment.

Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

What is integrated treatment? In this type of treatment, both diagnosed disorders are treated simultaneously by the same practitioner or treatment team to support patients in their recovery process in different coordinated stages. Many co-occurring disorder treatment centers employ this approach for treating the condition as it offers many advantages.

In the integrated treatment model, a specialist develops a plan for the co-occurring disorders which is made available to the clients so that they can feel included in the treatment plan.[4]

Why Integrated Treatment Leads To Better Outcomes

Integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders gives better results because both disorders are treated together. This is important because of the complex ways the co-occurring disorders interact. If both conditions are not treated together, a client may not be able to fully recover and in most cases, the condition worsens.

There is a growing body of research that supports the integrated program as the best treatment for co-occurring disorders.[5]

What Makes Integrated Treatment so Effective?

Several key features make integrated treatment so effective. They include shared decision-making, which helps clients feel included as a vital part of the treatment, and integration of services, which takes away the need for communication across agencies.

Here are some of the positive outcomes of employing integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders:

  • Deceased drug use
  • Enhanced standard of living
  • A reduction in mental health symptoms
  • Fewer arrests
  • Reduced rates of relapse 

Psychotherapy for Co-Occurring Disorders

Numerous behavioral interventions have demonstrated promise in the treatment of co-occurring disorders. For the best outcomes, we at Genesis Recovery develop treatment plans that are specifically tailored to each patient's needs.

Successful psychotherapy approaches for co-occurring disorder treatments include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying negative thought patterns to change harmful beliefs and behaviors. A person with co-occurring disorders is better able to deal with their issue when they comprehend why they act or feel a specific way and how those behaviors contribute to the conditions.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of CBT that teaches patients mindfulness and other coping mechanisms to deal with the disorder-causing behaviors and thoughts. The ultimate aim of DBT is to assist you in leading a life that you are proud of.

Barriers to Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders

Despite efforts to improve co-occurring disorder service delivery in a reformed mental health system, barriers to integrated treatment still exist.[6]

Some of the barriers to the treatment of co-occurring disorders include:

  • Personal vulnerabilities
  • Stigma
  • Lack of clear service models
  • Financial Barriers
  • Failure to identify co-occurring disease
  • Racial and ethnic disparities 
Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders

Finding the Right Treatment Center

At Genesis Recovery, we offer co-occurring disorder treatment for individuals afflicted with substance use disorder and mental health disorders. We employ our qualified multidisciplinary team to help in the recovery process in an integrated fashion.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders at our treatment center involves different behavioral therapies and medicine-assisted treatment tailored to your needs. Contact Genesis Recovery today for more information about our co-occurring disorder treatment program.


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