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What Does it Mean That Substance Use and Behavioral Health Disorders Often Coexist?

by Joy Delisle | Jun 30, 2021


Behavioral health conditions and substance use disorders often exist together, making them co-occurring disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly nine million people who struggle with addiction have co-occurring mental health or behavioral health disorder. While neither issue definitively causes the other, one condition can exacerbate the other’s symptoms.

Many people who struggle with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, use substances as a form of self-medication. Because substance use may offer temporary relief from their symptoms, the misuse continues, which can lead to dependency. The reliance on substances can also eventually worsen the symptoms of the condition it’s believed to be helping.

A variety of factors can contribute to mental health disorders including genetics, trauma, and environmental factors. It can’t be confirmed that substance abuse causes mental health disorders, but it can often lead to symptoms of mental health conditions, like feelings of anxiety and depression. For example, some people report experiencing feelings of depression when they drink. Addiction is a disease that rewires the brain over time. As substance use continues, the brain begins to reward itself each time the substance is used. This is why an individual struggling with addiction can experience symptoms of withdrawal like depression or anxiety when they stop using the substance.

It can be difficult to recognize a co-occurring disorder. Because the symptoms of a co-occurring disorder overlap, one is often diagnosed first, leaving the other untreated. To fully address all the symptoms, both conditions must be treated. To successfully treat alcohol or drug addiction, underlying factors contributing to substance use, such as co-occurring mental health and behavioral health disorders, must be addressed as well.

Here are some warning signs of co-occurring mental health or behavioral health disorder:

  • You find yourself using alcohol or drugs to cope with your feelings
  • You feel a lack of control over your emotions
  • You have a family history of mental health conditions or substance use disorder
  • You find yourself needing more and more of the substance to achieve the desired effect 
  • You believe that you need the substance to function

At CleanSlate, we understand the importance of treating the whole person. We address addiction as well as underlying mental health or behavioral health disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling, we’re here for support. Visit or call us at 833-505-HOPE.

Picture of Joy Delisle

Joy Delisle

Director of Behavioral Health Services

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If you or someone you know suffers from the disease of addiction, please call 833-505-HOPE to speak with a professional.

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