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Many people may not be aware of how common alcoholism and comorbidities really are. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance use problem.” This is especially true for individuals who struggle with alcoholism, as it remains the most prevalent substance use disorder (SUD) in the U.S.

Understanding Alcoholism and Comorbidities

Though they are somewhat common, alcoholism and comorbidities are quite complex. This is because they can manifest in different orders and, in many cases, occur simultaneously.

For example, someone struggling with alcoholism may find themselves more and more depressed and anxious as their addiction worsens. This increase in anxiety and depression could rise to the levels that would constitute mental illnesses.

Also, individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses can often go to the use of alcohol and substances as a coping mechanism to treat the symptoms of their disorder. This behavior can lead to alcoholism if the individual engages in it long enough and/or heavily enough.

Which Mental Disorder Is Most Commonly Comorbid With Alcoholism?

According to SAMHSA, “Substance use problems occur more frequently with certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.” While these are not the only disorders that can co-occur with alcoholism, they tend to be the most common. 

This is especially true for the first two: Depression and anxiety disorders. Now, this is certainly not surprising for depression, as alcohol is in itself a depressant.

Depression and Alcoholism

Truth be told, many people who struggle with alcoholism also struggle with depression. This can happen for several reasons. The first possible reason is that depression already existed before an individual started to engage in alcohol abuse, and alcohol was used as a way to self-medicate symptoms of depression. 

Another reason is that alcoholism can make people feel stuck in a vicious cycle that they cannot get out of. No matter how hard they try, they cannot stop drinking on their own. This is true even as very real consequences start to build up.

These are consequences such as trouble with relationships at home, falling behind in school, or experiencing reprimands at work. This vicious cycle eventually adds to a level of depression as the individual feels hopeless. Then this depression can intensify to the level of a mental illness. The same is true with anxiety.

Anxiety Disorders and Alcoholism

Most people start drinking as a way to fit in with the crowd, or as an acceptable way to pass the time with friends. However, for people with alcoholism, this way of drinking is left behind as a new form of compulsive and “necessary” drinking takes over.

This type of drinking (alcoholism) can cause some very serious consequences, and with those consequences often comes a level of anxiety. Also, as people become addicted to alcohol they can begin to become anxious about when and where they are going to get their next drink. They also become anxious about not having alcohol in their system, which can lead to very painful and troubling alcohol withdrawals.

As with depression and alcoholism, as this anxiety intensifies and sticks around, there is a high likelihood that an anxiety disorder will manifest. When this happens, it is important to treat the anxiety disorder at the same time as the alcoholism, otherwise, there is a chance that neither of them will be fully addressed. This can lead to either an alcohol relapse, a mental health relapse, or both.

Treating Alcoholism and Comorbidities Together

Alcoholism and comorbidities must be treated together. If this doesn’t happen, there is a chance that the untreated disorder will pull the “treated” disorder back to the surface and cause a relapse. 

For example, if someone is struggling with alcoholism and depression, but only the alcoholism is treated, it may be only a matter of time before treating the symptoms of depression with alcohol starts to sound like a good idea. This is because untreated depression can be very painful, and if there is nothing to ease that pain, alcohol will seem like an appropriate choice. On the other hand, if the depression is treated and not the alcoholism, there is a very good chance that the alcoholism is going to bring with it more consequences and jumpstart that vicious cycle of drinking followed by intense depression.

Our Recovery Mission at The Phoenix Recovery Center

Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand that treating alcoholism and comorbidities can feel insurmountable at times. Yet, we are here to prove that notion false.

We have seen countless clients fully recover from co-occurring disorders. The key is to treat the entire person, not just a disorder, which is exactly what we do. We don’t just see a diagnosis, we see the person behind it – both whole and worthy of lasting healing.

If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with issues of mental health, addiction, or both, we can help. For further information on treatment options for comorbidities of mental illness and addiction, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT