Having a Co-Occurring Disorder or Diagnosis means that a person has both a mental illness and substance dependency or abuse at the same time. A person may have a mental illness first, then turn to alcohol or other drugs because of sadness, anxiety, or fear of other people. The use of alcohol and other drugs makes problems harder to solve and creates new ones, such as addiction.

On the other hand, a person may have an alcohol or other drug use problem first. Because the person uses alcohol or other drugs, the brain and other organs may be affected, making the person act differently and develop a mental illness over time.

To fully recover, the person needs treatment for both problems.

When someone has a co-occurring diagnosis, many people are affected. Everyone involved may have problems with stress as a result of not knowing what will happen from one moment to the next. Family and friends may feel guilt, anger, fear, shame and hopelessness.

Some reports indicate that 37% of those who abuse alcohol and 53% of those who abuse drugs also have at least one serious mental illness. In addition, of all people who have a mental illness diagnosis, 29% abuse either alcohol or drugs.