Overcoming Substance Use Disorders and Common Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

Often, individuals experience substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental illness simultaneously. Almost half of the individuals with either mental illness or substance abuse also have the other. Some of the most prevalent mental health conditions that co-occur with SUDs include anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mood disorders such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder.


The most common type of mental health conditions, anxiety disorders affect almost 20% of adults in the U.S. Characterized by chronic stress and worry, anxiety disorders can impede individuals’ ability to function normally and lead contented lives. Although several different kinds of anxiety disorders exist, the conditions generally involve feeling severe distress about real or perceived threats. The level of anxiety experienced usually exceeds the actual danger presented by the threat. In response to any potential threats, however, the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism triggers the production of stress hormones, a biological response intended to increase the chance of survival. Because those with anxiety disorders are more likely to characterize circumstances as threatening, their flight-or-flight responses are generally overly active, causing them to feel almost constantly on edge. 

Symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Extreme and/or irrational fear or worry disproportionate to the actual danger of the threat
  • Feelings of uneasiness and restlessness
  • Feelings of irritability and agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Digestive problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Social withdrawal
  • Struggles carrying out everyday activities
  • Struggles in relationships
  • Suicidality

Individuals with anxiety disorders are two to three times more likely to struggle with a SUD. Many turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to temporarily alleviate the symptoms of their anxiety disorders. Contrary to their intentions, however, the behavior can not only make their symptoms worse in the long run but also foster dependence on substances. Additionally, the consequences of abusing drugs and alcohol such as withdrawal symptoms, struggles meeting responsibilities, and challenges in relationships can contribute to even more feelings of stress, producing a vicious cycle of anxiety and substance abuse.

Of the different kinds of anxiety disorders, specifically generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and PTSD have been associated with substance use. Some of the aspects of these conditions are included below.

  • GAD: Characterized by excessive, uncontrollable anxiety about a variety of topics, GAD can cause irritability, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Co-occurring GAD and substance use disorders are more likely to affect men than women.
  • Panic disorder: Those with panic disorder experience repeated panic attacks, which are episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This condition describes a disabling fear of social situations. 
  • PTSD: A condition experienced by about 6% of the U.S. population, PTSD is caused by exposure to trauma. Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts and memories, strong bodily reactions, avoidance behaviors, and hypervigilant behaviors.


Mood disorders, a term used to describe the category of depressive and bipolar disorders, affect almost 10% of U.S. adults. Those with mood disorders experience various emotional states that interfere with their ability to carry out daily life and interact with others. 

Symptoms of mood disorders include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or fatigue
  • Feelings of anxiousness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities one once enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidality

Mood disorders and substance abuse occur together more often than any other mental illness. About 35% of individuals with MDD also have a SUD, while 56% of individuals with bipolar disorder have a SUD as well. The attributes of these conditions are included below. 

  • MDD: Also known as clinical depression, MDD is characterized by persistent feelings of emptiness and despair as well as physical and cognitive struggles, including body aches and trouble concentrating. 
  • Bipolar disorder: Although there are different kinds of bipolar disorder, the condition generally involves extreme mood shifts from a depressive state to a manic state. 

The combination of drugs, alcohol, and mood disorders can be harmful. Substance use can actually both trigger and exacerbate the symptoms of mood disorders. Additionally, the emotional turmoil brought on by mood disorders may drive individuals to use substances in an attempt to combat undesired moods.


At Wasatch Crest, our clinicians assess whether any mental health concerns may be occurring alongside addiction. They create personalized treatment plans for clients based on their specific struggles. Treatment plans may implement cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness practices, trauma-based therapies, and other evidence-based modalities to help guide clients toward recovery from both mental health concerns and substance abuse. Reach out to learn more about our addiction treatment programs in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range.  

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