Co-Occurring Disorders

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co-occurring addiction disorders

If you’re struggling with a co-occurring disorder in Scottsdale, you’re certainly not alone. Research suggests that about half of all addicts struggle with a secondary mental health condition. Though co-occurring disorders can complicate the treatment process, understanding these disorders can expedite the journey to sobriety while helping you remain sober even in the face of stress and temptation. Whether it’s crack, heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs such as Xanax or Ambien, marijuana, or some other drug altogether, understanding the interactions between your co-occurring disorder and your addiction can shed light on the mysteries of substance abuse.

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What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder, as the name implies, is any disorder that complicates and occurs alongside your addiction. It doesn’t matter whether the addiction or the other disorder came first, and one does not have to cause the other. The simple presence of a substance abuse disorder and another condition constitutes a co-occurring disorder.
There’s some debate in the mental health community about which disorders “count” as co-occurring disorders. Virtually all addiction experts agree that mental health disorders such as depression, PTSD, ADHD, and generalized anxiety disorder are co-occurring disorders. However, there is an increasing push to recognize the connection between mind and body, so some doctors now consider physical health issues to be co-occurring disorders. These disorders can alter your mind, change the way you interact with the world, and expose you to potentially addictive drugs, the reasoning goes, so it makes sense to group them with other co-occurring disorders.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as “a common but serious mood disorder.” It can cause people to have a number of different symptoms that impact how they feel on a day to day basis. It can affect how they manage their daily activities, their sleep schedule and virtually everything in their lives. In order for a person to be diagnosed with depression, they must have had the condition for a minimum of two weeks.

There are several types of depression, and they include:

  • Postpartum depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Postpartum depression
  • Major depressive disorder or clinical depression

There are a lot of depression symptoms that can be easy to miss or that are often passed off as something else entirely. They include:

  • Feeling persistently sad, anxiety or having an empty feeling inside.
  • Having feelings of hopelessness.
  • Feeling irritable.
  • Feeling worthless, helpless or guilty.
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Not having as much energy as usual.
  • Feeling extremely tired or fatigued.
  • Talking and moving slowly.
  • Problems with concentrating.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Sleep issues that may include problems falling asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are conditions that cause intense worry or fear. They typically do not go away without treatment and may only get worse if they are ignored. When someone has an anxiety disorder, it can interfere with their daily lives and make it hard to cope. People often struggle with work, relationships and other aspects of their lives because of anxiety.

It is important to note that anxiety disorders are very different from the typical anxiety a person might experience every now and then. Some people feel anxious before taking a test, starting a new job, or making important decisions in their lives. But those feelings are short-lived and really do not have much of an impact on them in the grand scheme of things. Anxiety disorders can be engulfing and extremely hard to manage on one’s own.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, and they include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety
  • Separation anxiety disorder

People who have anxiety often report that they:

  • Get tired very easily.
  • Often have muscle tension in their bodies.
  • Frequently feel restless or on-edge.
  • Are easily irritated.
  • Find it hard to control their feelings of being worried.
  • May struggle with sleep issues.
  • Experience a sense of impending doom often.
  • Do not feel in control of themselves or their feelings.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is defined as, “a mental health disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” It can be an extremely hard condition to deal with; especially without getting any type of professional treatment for it.

There are three different types of bipolar disorder and they are:

  • Bipolar I Disorder – This condition is defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days, as well as depressive episodes that may last at least two weeks. Symptoms often so severe that they require hospitalization.
  • Bipolar II Disorder – This condition is defined by a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes. But someone with this type of bipolar disorder does not experience severe mania the way someone does who has bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder – This condition is also often called cyclothymia. There are periods of hypomanic symptoms and periods of depression that last for at least two years.

Most of the time, bipolar disorder is diagnosed during the late teen years or during early adulthood. Children can sometimes have symptoms as well, but it is more rare.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary, depending on the episode the person is experiencing, but can include:

  • Feeling very elated or very down.
  • Feeling wired or slowed down.
  • Not needing as much sleep, or sleeping too much.
  • Not having much of an appetite or feeling the need to eat almost constantly.
  • Talking fast about a variety of subjects or talking slowly and forgetting information.

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Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are extremely serious and they can become fatal illnesses if they are not treated appropriately. When someone suffers from an eating disorder, they experience significant disturbances in their eating behaviors because of related thoughts and emotions. These individuals are often preoccupied with food, their body weight and the shapes of their bodies.

There are several common types of eating disorders and they include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – This condition causes people to see themselves as overweight even when they are not. Many people with anorexia nervosa are severely underweight. They may weight themselves repeatedly, restrict their food intake drastically and exercise a lot. Some may use laxatives or make themselves vomit as a way to keep their weights down as low as possible.
  • Bulimia Nervosa – People with bulimia nervosa often find that they have frequent, recurring episodes of eating large amounts of food. During these times, they do not have control over themselves or their actions. Once they have binged, they will force themselves to vomit, use laxatives or diuretics, fast or exercise excessively. People often combine these behaviors.
  • Binge Eating Disorder – People who suffer from binge eating disorder will often lose control over their eating behaviors. They simply eat until they cannot eat any longer. Many people with this condition are severely overweight or obese.  


PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. There are a number of events that could cause someone to develop PTSD, such as:

  • The loss of a loved one.
  • Watching someone die.
  • Being in or seeing a car accident.
  • Living through a natural disaster.
  • Participating in combat as a soldier.
  • Being the victim of some form of violence.

People who develop PTSD often have persistent, frightening thoughts that are very hard to cope with. They may suffer because of triggers, which can then lead them to experience flashbacks. A flashback is like going back in time and living through the event all over again.

PTSD can become severe, and it can inhibit people from living productive lives.


ADHD is a very common disorder that afflicts children, but it can also persist through the teenage years and on into adulthood as well. People who have ADHD find it very difficult to stay focused and pay attention. They may struggle to control their behaviors and frequently feel hyperactive.

People with ADHD often find that they:

  • Make careless mistakes.
  • Miss important details.
  • Have problems with lengthy reading or even conversations.
  • Do not always listen when people speak to them directly.
  • Find it hard to finish tasks once they start them.
  • Struggle with organization.
  • Often lose important things.
  • Get distracted easily.

The Link Between Co-Occurring Disorders and Substance Abuse

A lot of people who have co-occurring disorders are completely unaware of them. They may know that something is not quite right, but they have never been diagnosed with any type of mental health condition in the past. Instead of getting a diagnosis and treatment, they take matters into their own hands and begin to treat themselves.

People with co-occurring disorders will gravitate to various drugs based on their symptoms. For example, if someone has an anxiety disorder, they may feel shaky and on-edge much of the time. They are likely to choose a drug that results in more depressive feelings, such as alcohol, opioids or benzodiazepines. Likewise, someone who is depressed may want to use Adderall, cocaine or methamphetamine.

But what a lot of people do not understand is the fact that while these drugs may work for a little while, they will not work forever. Eventually, the addiction will progress and the results from the drug will not be what they were in the beginning. This happens because people form a tolerance, which then leads them to either increase their drug dosage or add another drug to amplify the effects.

How Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated?

If you’re struggling with two ore more disorders, it can be tempting to treat them separately. You might go to rehab with plans to pursue therapy for your depression after you get out, for example. But your co-occurring disorder directly interacts with your addiction by amplifying your feelings, adding to the challenges of withdrawal, and warping your judgment. Thus the best and most effective treatments focus on both disorders simultaneously. In rehab, you’ll get therapy to explore the roots of both disorders, medical assistance that can help you more effectively manage your symptoms, and group support that allows you to benefit from the wisdom and mistakes of other people struggling with issues similar to your own.

Can Co-Occurring Disorders Cause Addiction?

Co-occurring disorders don’t necessarily cause addiction, but there is a strong connection between substance abuse and other illnesses. Every situation is different. Some people have depression long before developing an addiction; others develop it while struggling with addiction. Some of the ways in which mental health issues and substance abuse interact include:

  • The treatment for some conditions includes addictive drugs. If you take these drugs for long periods of tie, take more than the dosage recommended by your doctor, or don’t notify your doctor when you begin to experience symptoms of addiction, you can become addicted to these substances. Some people with co-occurring disorders begin doctor-shopping to get larger quantities of prescription drugs.
  • Addiction itself can cause mental illness. First, drugs and alcohol change the way your brain function, potentially rendering you vulnerable to mental illness. But second, addiction wreaks havoc on your life, and that chaos can sometimes trigger mental illness. If your spouse divorces you, for instance, you may suffer from anxiety or depression.
  • Mental illness makes you more vulnerable to addiction because it undermines your judgment.
  • Some people self-medicate to cope with the symptoms of mental illness. A person experiencing anxiety might turn to depressants to quiet the racing thoughts of an anxious mind, while a person with depression might be attracted to the euphoric sensations some stimulants offer.

Our alcohol recovery program allows you to keep work and family commitments while focusing on your sobriety.

Program Details

Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder

Dozens of mental health disorders exist, so if you experience emotional challenges that don’t make sense or that seem to come out of nowhere, it could signal a co-occurring disorder. Some common symptoms of mental illness include:

  • Chronic unpleasant feelings that don’t seem related to any specific thing. You might feel happy, anxious, or angry even when nothing specific has made you feel this way.
  • Obsessive thoughts you can’t turn off.
  • Always feeling bad.
  • Difficulty enjoying activities you once embraced.
  • Relying on drugs or alcohol to cope with painful emotions or experiences.
  • A childhood history of trauma or abuse.
  • Difficulty predicting the reactions of other people.
  • Nightmares, night terrors, or recurring intrusive memories.
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there.
  • A severely distorted perception of yourself. This is especially common among people with eating disorders.
  • Difficulty feeling happy even when good things happen.
  • An inability to effectively communicate with other people.
  • Hearing from loved ones that your behavior has changed or seems out of character.
  • Difficulty in your relationships with others. If your relationships seem to end for no reason, you often have severe conflict with loved ones, or you have difficulty maintaining relationships, this could indicate a problem.
  • A family history of substance abuse or mental illness.
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others.
  • Feeling like you can’t control your own emotions.
  • Difficulty relating to others.
  • Believing or thinking things that other people do not understand.
  • Frequently feeling trapped inside your own head.

Co-occurring disorders don’t have to ruin your life, but if you want to get clean and sober for good, you need to tackle not just your addiction, but also any co-occurring issues.
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Paying for Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment: Is it Covered by Insurance in Arizona?

It can be expensive to go to rehab in Arizona; especially for someone who does not have health insurance. Depending on the type of program the person needs, the cost could end up being thousands of dollars. This is a lot more than most people can afford to pay on their own.

But the good news is that health insurance companies are required to provide benefits to help cover the cost of addiction treatment in Arizona. That includes treating co-occurring disorders and paying for detoxification.

Applying for health insurance is easy and can be done by visiting At SpringBoard Recovery, we can verify your insurance and make sure you maximize your benefits as much as possible.

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