Fraud Blocker

Co-occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Among Young Adults

Co-occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Among Young Adults

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

In 2019, there were 9.5 million young adults diagnosed with at least one co-occurring disorder and a substance use disorder. (  In 2020, more young adults attending college suffered from mental health concerns during the Coronavirus pandemic.  

College students can be especially vulnerable to these disorders. They try to balance work and social life among other more significant responsibilities. These changes can lead to heightened anxiety and even depression.

The stress of coping with these demands and the easy access to drinking and drug use can be a recipe for disaster. College years can be full of triggers that lead students to substance use and misuse. This can also aggravate mental health problems.

Co-occurring disorders can have dire effects on young adults’ work, relationships, and health. The good news is that they can manage these disorders through healthy habits and professional help. Read on to know more about these disorders and how to better your mental health.

Mental Health Disorders

The American Psychiatric Association uses “mental disorder” to describe mental illnesses. However, they also recommend using the term “mental health challenge.”

Mental disorders cover a wide range of mental health conditions. These disorders affect a person’s thinking, mood, and behavior. They include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use, and schizophrenia.

It’s normal for people to experience mental health concerns from time to time. They become an illness when symptoms cause stress and impair your everyday function.

Some mental disorders are also more common than others. Each of these disorders can also vary in severity, ranging from mild to severe.

What Is Substance Use Disorder?

This is an illness where people suffer from the uncontrolled use of a substance. People with substance use disorder have an intense fixation to use substances. These substances can include alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs, or even prescription drugs.

Sufferers’ fixation on these substances impairs their ability to function in everyday life. Young adults continue to use these substances despite knowing the harms accompanied by them.

Substance use often starts with experimental use in social situations. This can continue until, for some people, using the substance becomes more frequent. For others, substance use begins with exposure to prescribed medications.

The repeated use of these substances causes changes in the brain. These changes can remain long after the immediate effects of the substance are gone.

What Are Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders?

Many individuals can suffer from one mental health disorder. A co-occurring disorder is when a person suffers from two or more mental disorders or medical illnesses. These disorders can overlap and start simultaneously, or one can develop before or after the other.

An outdated term for co-occurring disorders is dual diagnosis. Although both these terms are often confused with comorbid disorders.

Comorbidity is a broad term referring to cases with two or more mental or physical disorders. A co-occurring disorder is a specific term referring to mental and substance use disorders.

Mental health disorders and substance use disorders have a strong link. Around half of the people with a disorder can develop another mental disorder as they age. These co-occurring disorders can also worsen each other.

Researchers identify three possible reasons why co-occurring disorders are common. One is the overlapping risk factors. These include genetics and environmental factors like trauma.

Self-medicating is another reason. Substance use can cover a disorder’s symptoms, yet it can also aggravate them in the short and long term. A third reason is the brain changes caused by substance use.

Disorders that can develop into co-occurring disorders include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Psychosis

These disorders can develop and co-occur in one individual. Because of this, the symptoms of each can exacerbate both disorders.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders can manifest in different ways. This will depend on the particular disorders a person may have. Here are some telltale signs that a person may be developing co-occurring disorders.

  • Loss of interest in essential hobbies or activities
  • Extreme emotional highs or lows
  • Feeling dread without any apparent cause.
  • Eating and sleeping habits have changed.
  • Increased or decreased sexual drive
  • Difficulties in thinking or focusing
  • Isolation
  • Increased irritability
  • Ignoring personal hygiene
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Losing a grip on reality (paranoia, delusions, hallucinations)
  • Inability to see these changes in themselves
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

People who have mental illnesses may rely too much on substances to cope. This can lead to a substance use disorder. The symptoms can vary depending on the substance used but can include the following:

  • Inability or difficulty in stopping substance use even if they want to
  • Withdrawal symptoms when they stop substance use
  • Difficulties in completing tasks due to substance use
  • Isolation or spending time with different people
  • Frequent tardiness or absences
  • Increased tolerance for even large amounts of a substance
  • Self-destructive behavior like driving under the influence

These signs can be symptoms of various mental disorders. One should pay close attention to these extreme shifts in behavior. Co-occurring disorders can result in more problems.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have a disorder, refer them to a mental health professional.

Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

In the past, mental disorders and substance use problems often underwent separate treatments. With the recognition of co-occurring disorders, they’re now treated together. Programs for integrated treatment assess patients for substance use disorders.

Other programs may focus on tackling mental disorders. Integrated treatments ensure that one treatment program in one setting addresses both disorders. An integrated treatment program has several features.

Integrated and Comprehensive Services

The services for both mental health and substance use are from a single professional or team. The patient will have one treatment plan with one set of goals and a single relapse plan in this setup.

Integrated treatment also recognizes that co-occurring disorders can be demoralizing. It can weaken a person’s ability to support themselves.

This is why co-occurring disorder treatment programs will include other social services. These programs often assist assistance in housing, supported employment, and social skills training. Patients are also given case and illness management and support for pharmacological treatment.

Multiple Interventions

People suffering from co-occurring disorders have many needs. They will also have their particular values and preferences. All these influence their goals.

Given this fact, the program tailors interventions and approaches to the particular patient. The patient can engage in these interventions at the same time.

Motivation-Based Treatment

The treatment also targets the patient’s stage of motivation for recovery. This means that each step of the treatment has different interventions. They include active treatment, persuasion, engagement, and relapse prevention.

Harm Reduction

People with substance use disorder are willing to take smaller steps before stopping. This approach in substance use treatment encourages the patient’s willingness.

This helps reduce the harmful effects of their substance use. When they see progress, they become more motivated to overcome the disorders.

The Patient’s Role in Decision-Making

The treatment recognizes the patient’s agency and shares the decision-making process. The patient gets to decide the goals they’ll pursue under treatment. They also have a say on how the treatment will proceed.

How to Improve Your Mental Health

It’s essential to recognize that the brain, like the other physical organs, has limits. The pressure to complete college requirements can make it easy to disregard your mental health.

Mental illness creates extreme and unhealthy shifts in behavior. If left unchecked, disorders can hamper a student’s ability to manage their lives. As a result, their academic performance, relationships, and health suffer.

Developing healthy habits is crucial to preventing mental illness. The following are five simple ways to better your mental health.

1. Be Mindful

Pay attention to your physical sensations and emotions. These are essential indicators of your mental wellbeing. They can tell you if you’re tired so you can decide to take a break.

Being aware of your emotions prevents you from bottling them up, which can also cause stress.

2. Proper Diet

Besides your energy levels and physical health, food also affects your mood. Students in the throes of research must also keep a healthy diet. This better prepares you to take on the stress of your studies.

3. Regular Exercise

Exercising stimulates the production of hormones that lighten your mood. This is also proven to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

4. Get the Right Amount of Sleep

Lack of sleep will make productivity unsustainable. Students should set a sleep schedule and avoid caffeine at night. If you have trouble sleeping, establish bedtime rituals that can encourage sleep.

5. Make Time for Personal Breaks

Students must also set a downtime each day. You can go for a walk, spend time with a few friends, or take a long shower. This helps ease the stresses you’ve encountered during the day.

Helping People With Substance Use Disorder

Co-occurring disorders and substance use disorders are never easy to handle. They impair people’s ability to manage their lives. For college students, such disorders can devastate their studies and relationships.

It’s a good thing that these disorders are treatable. You might be considering a career in the field of mental health or substance use disorder.  Our Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies Program Program may be ideal for you.

Contact us today for more information!

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x