What are the Common Comorbidity in Substance Abuse?

Learn the definition of comorbidity, its effects on treatment, and different treatment options in this informative article.

What Is Comorbidity?

Comorbidity is a medical term that refers to having more than one illness or condition at the same time that may or may not interact with each other. For example, someone who is struggling with substance abuse may have comorbid anxiety, meaning the two conditions are co-occurring.1

If you or a loved one are suffering from co-occurring disorders, help is available. Read on to learn about the different treatment options for comorbidity.


Causes and Health Implications

Comorbidities are often chronic or long-term conditions, and comorbidities can occur via both physical conditions and psychiatric conditions. Sometimes, one illness will worsen the other; in other instances, the conditions do not have any effect on one another. 

Regardless, doctors and mental health professionals must be informed of individuals’ comorbid symptoms and conditions in order to effectively treat the patient. 

How is a Comorbidity Different from a Complication?

There is a difference between a comorbid disease or condition and a complication stemming from a condition. Complications arise directly from diseases or after treatment of a disease—for example, an infection following a cancer procedure.

Comorbidities are two separate conditions that do not necessarily relate to or affect one another, like substance use and anxiety. A person with substance use may have had anxiety prior to their use of substances, making the two conditions unrelated; on the other hand, a person who has anxiety may use substances in an attempt to “numb” the anxious feelings.2

What are the Common Comorbidity in Substance Abuse?

When it comes to substance abuse and comorbid conditions, research has shown that around half of people with a substance use disorder have at least one comorbidity in the form of a mental health condition. Comorbidities examples include specific mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and major depressive disorder, or more common mental illnesses. People with substance use disorder are more likely to be diagnosed with mental illnesses like anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and personality disorders.

While many cases of comorbid mental illness involve having these conditions prior to substance use, there are some cases where substance use triggers the onset of a mental disorder by changing the structure of the brain to predispose a person to new mental illnesses.

Additional Examples of Comorbidity

Mental health comorbidities are most common with substance use disorder, but other comorbidities can occur with substance use disorder, including:

Why Mental Health Disorders Coexist With Substance Use

It can be difficult to pinpoint the causes of comorbidities with substance abuse, but it is important to understand why mental health disorders are so common with substance use disorder. In some cases, drug use proves to be the direct cause of mental health disorders. Substance use can lead to changes in the brain that make mental health conditions more likely.3

Mental Illness May Make Someone More Likely to Use Substances

When someone is dealing with a mental illness, they may be more likely to use substances to cope with the symptoms of conditions like anxiety and depression. This can be problematic not only because of the dangers associated with substance use but also because changes in the brain due to mental illness may lead to a person wanting to continue using the substance, making addiction more likely. 

Risk Factors and Predisposition

Research shows that certain genes can contribute to someone developing mental health issues and substance use issues. Genetics can also determine the way a person responds to a substance (i.e. whether it is enjoyable or not), which can determine the likelihood of addiction. 

Additionally, stress and trauma can alter a person’s genetic makeup, which then gets passed onto future generations, possibly contributing to mental health conditions or substance abuse.

How are Comorbid Conditions Diagnosed and Treated?

It is extremely important that treatment of co-occurring disorders is not only thorough but also treats symptoms of both substance abuse and the comorbid mental disorder. Receiving treatment for one condition without treating the comorbid symptoms or conditions leads to poorer treatment outcomes overall.

Rather than treating mental illness and substance abuse separately, it can be beneficial to utilize a treatment that is specialized for comorbid conditions. Integrated treatment methods, which address comorbidities together rather than as totally separate conditions, have proven to be much more effective than other types of treatments.4

How Does Comorbidity Affect Treatment Plans?

Someone with a comorbid diagnosis will have to keep in mind that their treatment plan may look different from someone who does not experience comorbid conditions. Having co-occurring conditions can complicate treatment because you likely experience a variety of symptoms from each condition. The conditions must be managed separately, but effective treatment depends on medical professionals understanding how the conditions may affect each other.5

Tips to Successful Treatment of Comorbidity

Some tips to ensure successful treatment of comorbid diseases or conditions include:

Get Treatment for Comorbid Conditions at Essence Healthcare

If you are experiencing comorbidity, there is help available to you. At Essence Healthcare, we prioritize your healing by creating personalized treatment plans that target the conditions affecting your life. Some of our treatment options include therapy, rehab, and dual diagnosis treatment.


One of the most promising treatments for substance abuse and comorbid conditions is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, your therapist can address the roots of your struggle with substance abuse and any comorbid depression or anxiety you may be experiencing. In CBT, you learn to understand how your conditions affect you and how they may affect each other, and from there, you can learn to alter the underlying negative thought patterns that lead to substance use and comorbid mental disorders. 


Whether you are seeking inpatient or outpatient treatment, Essence Health and Wellness has all levels of care covered for you. If you are seeking round-the-clock care from a devoted team, you can access that at inpatient treatment. If you need outpatient treatment that fits in with your schedule, Essence Healthcare can give you that as well. The most important thing is your recovery, and we are more than capable of meeting your unique needs.


Dual Diagnosis

When you have comorbid conditions, it is essential that your treatment plan addresses both (or more) conditions. Substance use may not improve if other conditions that affect substance use go untreated. At Essence Healthcare, our team offers dual diagnosis treatment which ensures that you can fully recover from substance use and any other underlying conditions. 

Reach Out Today

Don’t wait to get help for substance abuse and comorbid medical conditions or mental health issues. Please reach out to Essence Healthcare today at (800) 426-9829.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.