People with addictions often suffer from other mental health disorders. Some with untreated mental health problems start using alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate. Conversely, there are cases where an individual begins to develop the symptoms and signs of a mental illness only after using drugs; suggesting that drug abuse caused or exacerbated the mental disorder. Illnesses that frequently co- occur with addiction include:
In 2002, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 7-10 million people in the United States have co-occurring mental and alcohol or drug use disorders. People are less likely to recover from addiction when their co-occurring illness is left untreated.
Frequently, caregivers try to treat one illness without becoming aware of or addressing the other. So health practitioners helping a person with depression, for instance, may neglect to screen and treat the patient for alcoholism. Conversely, a caregiver working with a person with a cocaine addiction may fail to recognize and address an underlying bipolar disorder.
"Careful assessment and treatment of co-occurring disorders is critical to maximizing the chances of success in treatment," says Kathleen Brady, a nationally known addiction researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina. "If both disorders are not treated the chances of recovery are poor." According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency, "if one of the co-occurring disorders goes untreated, both usually get worse and additional complications often arise."