How does a person develop co-occurring disorders?
There are many ways in which co-occurring disorders develop. Most people with co-occurring disorders report that the symptoms of mental illness began first, and that they used alcohol or other drugs to cope with the symptoms (often known as self-medication).
For example, if you feel depressed, you may find that a couple of drinks or a little cocaine makes the depression lift, at least for a while.
When the buzz or the high wears off, you will probably feel worse. The solution may be to drink or use more. The more you drink or use, the worse you feel, and the cycle of co-occurring disorders begins.
The cycle gets worse when the other consequences of substance use – family difficulties, employment problems, legal issues, or financial troubles – come into play.
The cycle doesn’t have to start with symptoms of mental illness though. For some people with co-occurring disorders, the cycle begins with substance use.
The alcohol or drugs may trigger a genetic predisposition to a mental illness, or the consequences of substance use may generate depression or anxiety.
Finally, it is possible that the mental health and substance use problems develop independently of each other.
No matter how the co-occurring disorders developed, the symptoms of the disorders interact, typically resulting in increased symptoms of both or all disorders.