Learn How to Thrive With a Co-occurring Disorder

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Learn How to Thrive With a Co-occurring Disorder

Some people see being diagnosed with a mental health diagnosis on top of having a substance use disorder (SUD) as a disability, while others see it as a challenge. Certainly, from a clinical point of view, co-occurring disorders can make treatment more difficult to manage. However, your attitude and approach to handling your co-occurring disorders can make the difference between simply managing your disorders or thriving with them.

What Does It Mean to Have a Co-occurring Disorder?

Having a SUD can be hard enough to manage. Many people also have a co-occurring mental health disorder to manage as well. Sometimes, the mental health disorder is pre-existing, and they might use substances to self-medicate or try to cope with the symptoms. Others may develop a mental health disorder as a result of extended substance use. Research indicates that many co-occurring disorders share common risk factors with SUDs, such as genetics or environmental factors such as trauma. Either way, co-occurring disorders require more work to manage than just a SUD on its own.

Common Co-occurring Disorders

There are many co-occurring disorders, but the most commonly occurring disorders with substance use are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders


When left untreated, co-occurring disorders can worsen with continued substance use. Likewise, substance use often worsens when there are untreated mental health disorders. Developing multiple co-occurring disorders is also possible with extended untreated substance use or other mental health disorders, particularly depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Whenever possible, prompt treatment will help prevent further intensification of symptoms or additional diagnoses.

How Do Co-occurring Disorders Impact My Treatment?

Given the reciprocal relationship between co-occurring disorders, treating both substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously is crucial to the success of your recovery. Many of the treatments for the disorders overlap, including therapy. As you work through therapy to heal, you also learn coping mechanisms for both addiction and mental health diagnoses.

By achieving sobriety, you allow your mind and body to heal from substance use, and you can focus on managing the symptoms of your mental health disorder. By learning to manage your mental health disorder, you help to support your continued sobriety. Both mental health disorders and SUDs benefit from daily routines such as good sleep hygiene, meditation, self-care, and exercise. While the work may be more difficult, the overlap in treatment does help to manage co-occurring disorders simultaneously.

Attitude Check: Disability or Challenge?

What is your attitude toward your co-occurring disorders? Do you view them as having a disability or a disadvantage? Do you view them as a challenge, a hurdle to overcome on your road to recovery? Your attitude toward your disorders will make a tremendous difference in the outcome of your treatment.

When you view your co-occurring disorders as a disability, you give yourself an excuse for underachieving and the possibility of failure. You may even create a victim mentality, where you give up your sense of control over your life by blaming the disorders and not taking responsibility for what you do have control over.

On the other hand, viewing co-occurring disorders as a challenge empowers you to take control of what you have power over. You create a mentality of not being willing to give in or accept defeat because of your diagnosis. Instead, you fight each day to be your best and do everything to overcome the challenges you have been given. This is a winning mentality, the mindset of empowerment and success.

Learning to Thrive With Challenges

When you are willing to accept your co-occurring disorders as a challenge rather than a disability, you can do so much more than just manage your symptoms. You can learn to overcome your challenges and succeed in spite of adversity. Your outlook changes from one of self-pity to one of clarity and confidence. Your daily routines become daily triumphs. You can learn to live powerfully and thrive–not just live or go through the motions, but truly be alive and feel passion for life.

Thriving with co-occurring disorders benefits not only you but also those around you. You can become an inspiration to others, whether or not they also have co-occurring disorders. They can see the example of your attitude and your willingness to work through whatever life throws at you, not making excuses or letting your diagnoses stand in the way of success in recovery or life. Learning to thrive with co-occurring disorders makes the best out of a tough situation and can also serve as inspiration for others to be their best.