Alcohol and Mental Health: 4 Co-Occurring Disorders You May Encounter

Alcohol and Mental Health: 4 Co-Occurring Disorders You May Encounter

4 Co-Occurring Disorders You May Encounter

Dealing with alcoholism is already tough as it is, but it becomes a whole different game when co-occurring disorders become involved. Here are 4 co-occurring disorders you or a loved one may encounter on their road to recovery.

Alcohol addiction often accompanies additional underlying mental and anxiety disorders or co-occurring disorders.

A 1990 survey reported 53% of people with substance addiction had a co-occurring disorder.

It's not uncommon to seek treatment for alcohol and mental health simultaneously.

However, co-occurring disorders often go undiagnosed and so can be difficult to manage.

Alcohol and mental health affect each other, as many people with undiagnosed disorders self-medicate with alcohol and other substances to manage their symptoms.

Here's how to tell if you or a loved one has a co-occurring disorder and how to get help.

Co-Occurring Disorder Symptoms

Mental disorders can present in a variety of ways. The most common symptoms are the following noticeable changes in attitudes and behaviors:

  • Low energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Isolation (Avoiding friends and family)
  • Difficulty concentrating and completing tasks
  • Increased irritability, anxiety or anger
  • Appetite changes (lack of appetite or increased appetite)
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Hypersomnia (Sleeping a lot)
  • Insomnia (Inability to sleep)

If you begin experiencing these symptoms or if you notice these changes in a loved one, you might consider talking to a professional. You could have an undiagnosed co-occurring disorder.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Here are some common co-occuring disorders.

Bipolar Disorder

Also known as manic-depressive disorder, the most apparent symptom of bipolar disorder is extreme mood swings. The swings come in phases, manic and depressive.

During the manic phase, a person experiences extreme happiness and high energy and may feel like they can take on the world with little to no sleep. They might have erratic thoughts and can experience delusions of grandeur or lose touch with reality.

Manic episodes can last for a few days to a few weeks. High-risk behavior like gambling and engaging in unsafe sexual encounters are common during this time.

The depressive phase is typically characterized by low energy such that the sufferer might not get out of bed for days. He might lose interest in daily activities, even forgoing grooming.

These episodes can last for a few weeks to a few months.


Schizophrenia is characterized by hearing and seeing things aren't there or believing people can read or manipulate your thoughts. Some people with schizophrenia have uncontrolled movements called ticks.

People with schizophrenia might find it hard to communicate verbally and express thoughts. Sentences may not make sense and may sound like rambling or gibberish.


Prolonged feelings of sadness and disinterest are among the most common symptoms of depression. Alcohol can lift the spirits temporarily and when used in moderation. However, excessive alcohol consumption can make depression worse.

When depression worsens, the person might drink more and turn to other substances to try to elevate moods.

Depression symptoms vary in severity from mild to severe.

Hypersomnia can present itself in those with both addiction to alcohol and mental health concerns like depression. However, when the alcohol is removed the depreasion will remain.

Anxiety Disorders

Now, here are some anxiety disorders that can co-occur.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Several types of trauma can cause PTSD. The most commonly known cause is violence, however prolonged exposure to stressful or frightening events can also be a cause.

Flashbacks, insomnia, and avoidance of people, places and things that might trigger a flashback are symptoms of PTSD.

When the occurrences of flashbacks, avoidant behaviors, sleep disturbance and agitation begin to interfere with daily life, it might signal the presence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Panic Disorder

Random feelings of impending doom when there is no apparent danger can signal a panic disorder. Recurrent panic attacks, that may include physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, sweating, and chest or abdominal pain are telltale signs of this anxiety disorder.

Panic attacks can happen without warning, even while doing the most menial tasks. They can last a few minutes to hours and can be debilitating, even preventing some people from leaving their homes.

Social Anxiety

A person with social anxiety disorder might turn to alcohol to lower inhibitions and feel at ease in social settings.

Social anxiety is marked by feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, perceived judgment, and negativity while socializing. The idea of meeting new people, people of influence and even socializing with friends can spark feelings of dread.

Some people even experience physical symptoms such as tremors, rapid heart rate, and facial muscle spasm when anticipating social interaction.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an anxiety disorder in which a person has unwanted thoughts, urges or impulses that disrupt their daily lives. As a result, the person is compelled to perform specific actions or thoughts they believe will prevent bad things from happening or prevent them from acting on those urges.

As an example, a person might believe harm will come to them or a loved one if they don't flip the light switch a specific number of times before shutting it off. Another example is excessive hand washing to the point of developing dry, cracked hands that bleed for fear of coming into contact with germs.

Treating Alcohol and Mental Health

All treatment programs and facilities are not created equal. While there are treatment facilities around the country, they aren't all equipped to manage co-occurring disorders.

If the disorder is undiagnosed, it can be harder to treat the addiction. In addition, it can be even more difficult when the person with the disorder won't acknowledge or admit to having symptoms.

Studies show that an integrative approach is the best treatment for co-occurring disorders. This type of treatment incorporates multiple methods to help overcome the addiction and the mental health issue at the same time.

Addiction to alcohol and mental health concerns can be misdiagnosed when a facility is only treating for addiction. As such, the root cause of the addiction may still remain.

When seeking recovery for addiction, it's always a good idea to mention if you believe there may be a co-occurring disorder. It's better to rule out the existence of underlying diagnoses than to ignore them altogether.

Rewards for Recovery

Rewards and incentives for recovery can encourage former addicts to stay sober.

Milestone markers like 30-day, 6-month, and annual chips and coins can remind sober addicts that their sobriety has meaning for their loved ones as well as for themselves.

They can be additional motivation for those who struggle with alcohol and mental health, particularly in the early stages of recovery when trying to find the right medications and dosages.

If you're a sponsor or a family member of someone working through recovery from alcohol or treating a co-occurring disorder, and you believe a gift can help make a difference, check out our chips page.