Comorbidity and Addiction: Everything You Should Know

The term “comorbidity” could be associated with any individual that is simultaneously suffering from two conditions. For instance, if a person is suffering from a heart condition and is also having diabetes, they would have comorbid conditions.

This means that they have two conditions, potentially fatal if left untreated, that need medical care and treatment in two different ways. However, in the medical field that is preoccupied with treating addiction, this term is a little bit more exclusive.

In the medical field that treats addiction, the term is used to describe a mental illness that is present in an addicted person. These two develop one around the other and they have to be treated separately at first, for a successful recovery process.

Image source:

People with addiction need a different therapy program tailored specifically to their needs, for high recovery rates.

The strong relationship between mental illness and addiction

Comorbidity and addiction are widely common. In 2002, only in the US, approximately 4 million people were struggling with comorbidity and addiction. Since then, the numbers have skyrocketed. However, a difficult thing to establish is which condition appears first. In some cases, mental illness is the first condition there and sufferers rely on various substances to ease their negative feelings.

This is how addiction is related to mental illness. But the other way around is also happening. If a person is abusing methamphetamines for years, they have very high chances of developing schizophrenia or paranoid delusions. In this particular case, the addict develops a mental condition due to their substance abuse.

Image source:

The National Institute on Drug Abuse informs that mental illness and addiction oftentimes share the same genetic markers and pathways. Mentally ill patients have gaps and disruptions in the ways in which their bodies process chemical dopamine. This issue can be passed from generation to generation. When these patients use drugs with effects on chemical dopamine levels, they get a response from their bodies, a positive response. This makes then want to use again.

In many cases, similar genetic issues can influence one’s predisposition of developing an addiction, but also a mental illness simultaneously.  However, those with a drug addiction predisposition have a predisposition to develop certain mental illnesses.

  • Personality disorders;
  • Phobias;
  • Panic attacks;
  • Anxiety disorders;
  • Depression.

How to approach comorbidity and addiction

Image source:

Traditional recovery centres focus on finding out which was the first of the two conditions. However, this is similar to the chicken and the egg dilemma. The logic behind treating the primary condition was that after treating it, the other condition would disappear or, at least, it would become significantly easier to treat.

Unfortunately, this approach is ineffective. It has been proven in multiple occasions that when people with PTSD and addiction were asked to refrain from using drugs before starting the PTSD therapy. Unsurprisingly, their mental illness made it impossible for them to give up drug use. According to the team at The Holistic Sanctuary, the best approach is integrating therapies and treatment for both conditions simultaneously, for the best results and higher rehabilitation chances.

Generally, mental illness is impossible to cure. It can be successfully controlled and with treatment, the patient may have a normal life. in traditional therapies’ case, people with mental illness may be inclined towards drug use for the rest of their lives. However, certain therapy methods, less traditional ones that focus on treating both the mind and the physical addiction, have higher recovery rates (90% as compared to 20%-30). Reputable treatment centres and rehab institutions, however, know how to implement programs that can help the mentally ill addict pass their episodes more successful, with insignificant relapse chances.

In traditional rehab facilities, drug addiction is cured through therapy and powerful drugs. Those drugs are designed to ease withdrawal symptoms, but as it has been proven, this is a dangerous treatment path. According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, people with depression are oftentimes administered antidepressants as part of their rehabilitation programs. However, they can develop new addictions in the process, due to the medication’s addictive characteristics. Also, the medication itself may not be effective in addicts’ case.

Image source:

Learning how to control the two conditions may be the most effective treatment and therapy solution.  As mental illness is strongly related to addiction, some therapy centres put an accent on including their patient’s families in the rehabilitation programmes. These therapy solutions seem to be more effective as they teach the close relative of those with comorbid conditions how to help the addict and build a healthy environment for them. Other programs offer connections and a developed network of contacts and establishments to help them to various lifestyle matters:

  • Housing;
  • Parenting;
  • Employment;
  • Education.

These variables would be ideal. However, people with comorbid conditions rarely receiver the help that they should. In spite of the fact that similar therapies would help them recover enormously and become fully functional adults, mentally ill addicts are reluctant at receiving any sort of help. Furthermore, out of those who seek help and get treatment, only 12% receive help for both conditions.

Physical concerns of addiction comorbidities

The mental concerns are only part of the addiction concerns. The physical concerns usually associated with mental illness and drug abuse are also important in the recovery process. Injecting drugs can expose one to Hepatitis C, and this is the lest dangerous viral infection associated with injecting drugs. Many addicts who inject are at a high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other similar infections. Further problems identified by the Journal of Urban Health are:

  • Dental issues;
  • Malnutrition;
  • Respiratory issues;
  • Dental problems.

Getting help

Image source:

People who struggle simultaneously with mental issues and addictions need specialised programs that are specifically developed for such patients. They are designed to help mental issues and treat addiction, regardless of which one of those was there first.

The benefits of similar programs are undeniable, being far more effective than traditional ones. Treating simultaneously two issues is one of the best approaches to mental health and addiction.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here