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The Importance of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

The Importance of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Diagnosing co-occurring disorders can be difficult due to the overlapping symptoms of mental illness and addiction. However, the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of both disorders are crucial for individuals to attain lasting recovery. After all, dual diagnosis addiction treatment helps individuals foster healthy coping habits and symptom management plans that promote sobriety. 


Sometimes, mental illness can lead to self-medication which then turns into an addiction. On the other hand, long term substance abuse can exacerbate underlying mental illness or cause a mental health condition to develop and worsen over time. Regardless of which disorder came first, treating both at the same time is of utmost importance. Even if one disorder is treated, the other will be unlikely to disappear. Instead, dual diagnosis treatment is the best course of action with people experiencing co-occurring disorders. 


What Causes Co-Occurring Disorders To Go Undiagnosed?

There are many reasons why co-occurring disorders sometimes go undiagnosed. Unfortunately, nearly 50% of drug users and 40% of chronic drinkers have a diagnosable mental health condition that requires dual diagnosis treatment.[1]


Two of the most common reasons why co-occurring disorders are left undiagnosed are a misdiagnosis and financial reasons. 



It is not uncommon for symptoms of addiction to mask the symptoms of mental illness. In addition, symptoms of mental illness can sometimes be confused with the symptoms of substance abuse. For example, symptoms of addiction that are similar to those of some mental health conditions include:[2]

  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Sudden behavioral changes
  • Acting out in risky behaviors
  • Confused thinking
  • Problems concentrating
  • Extreme shifts in mood
  • Neglecting personal hygiene


While diagnosing co-occurring disorders presents its own challenges, those suffering may not realize the depth of their problems. People with mental illness frequently don’t address their substance use because they don’t realize it is a problem. At the same time, someone who is suffering from addiction may be unaware that they are self-medicating an underlying mental illness. 


Financial Reasons

Addiction treatment is costly as it is, however, when mental health treatment is required as well, the costs can go even higher. As a result, individuals may settle for one treatment rather than both treatments together. Fortunately, many rehabs in North Carolina offer dual diagnosis addiction treatment to effectively treat both disorders simultaneously. 


What Happens When Dual Diagnosis is Left Untreated?

People who experience co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness face unique challenges both in the treatment process as well as in recovery. Consequently, when a dual diagnosis case is left untreated, it can result in many undesirable circumstances. 


Increasing Mental Health Episodes

When a dual diagnosis is left untreated during drug and alcohol rehab, it is likely that a person will begin experiencing increasingly severe mental health episodes. In addition, the individual suffering may experience worsening mental health symptoms that eventually drive him or her back to substance abuse to cope. 


Disease/Health Risks

Health risks of dual diagnosis if left untreated

When mental illness and substance use disorders are left untreated, individuals may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors and neglect their physical health. As a result, it can leave individuals more susceptible to many health ailments, such as:[3]

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver diseases
  • Asthma 


Problems with Relationships & Obligations

Another consequence of leaving dual diagnosis untreated is the development of problems within family, school, or work life. Whether these issues arise from mental illness or addiction, it can be extremely hard for an individual to function in a healthy way in order to meet their obligations and sustain their relationships. 



If one disorder is left untreated, relapse becomes a serious concern. After all, neglecting mental health counseling during addiction treatment can lead to worsening symptoms that an individual may begin self-medicating. On the other hand, treating only mental health but not addiction will not provide individuals with the necessary tools and support to stay sober. 


Dual Diagnosis Addiction Treatment in North Carolina

Getting the right treatment is a challenging task. However, due to the high comorbidity of co-occurring disorders, it is best to stay on the safe side and consider a dual diagnosis treatment program. The most effective dual diagnosis treatment is a comprehensive, integrated treatment program, consisting of the following treatment methods:

  • Medical detoxification
  • Inpatient rehab
  • Sober living
  • Psychotherapy
  • Intensive outpatient program
  • Medications
  • Outpatient rehab
  • Self-Help/12 Step Support Groups


“Our comprehensive, compassionate and unique treatment helps build a foundation for a healthy recovery and sober future. Clients at Carolina Center for Recovery undergo a personalized journey through one of our highly effective treatment programs. They’re specifically assigned to licensed mental health counselors, certified addiction professionals or master-level therapists who not only specializes in the issues they’re facing but is paired with them based on their needs.”


For dual diagnosis addiction treatment in North Carolina that works, contact our specialists today.