What is a co-occurring disorder? Can someone who is struggling with a diagnosed mental illness become addicted to alcohol or drugs?

Does addiction lead to mental illness?

When dealing with these types of questions, it is easy to get confused and even overwhelmed when trying to find help.

The reality of co-occurring disorders is that they feed on each other, pushing you to abuse more substances to deal with the symptoms you experience – which, in turn, continually make your symptoms worse.

The definition of a co-occurring disorder is a co-existing, diagnosable mental illness and diagnosable substance use disorder that take place at the same time.

For most people dealing with this specific set of afflictions, trying to figure out how to juggle the symptoms on a daily basis can leave them feeling lost and overwhelmed.

Did the mental illness drive you to start abusing substances or did your substance addiction make your mental illness more severe?

Whichever way you look at the situation, dealing with your co-occurring disorder in a comprehensive and clinically sound environment is the only real way to treat both your addiction and the mental illness impacting your life.

Does Alcohol Cause Schizophrenia?

In the case of alcohol addiction and schizophrenia, the way these two disorders interact and impact each other is akin to gas and fire.

Figuring out which disease came first, or which one is worse than the other is honestly inconsequential.

The important thing to understand is that both alcohol addiction and schizophrenia need to be treated in a therapeutic environment that is capable of correctly diagnosing the diseases and treating them through a specified and individually tailored treatment plan.

This inclusive approach is the only true way to achieve sustained success over these disorders and enable yourself to attain long-term happiness in your life. (1)

Schizophrenia: What’s Important to Know

This specific mental illness is a serious disorder that causes a person to interpret their reality in an abnormal fashion. Schizophrenia typically results in some combination of hallucinations, delusions and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning.

The disease is known to require lifelong treatment due to its disabling manner. Some of the more severe symptoms associated with schizophrenia include:

These are sensations that appear real but are created by the mind. They typically involve hearing or seeing things that do not exist, but appear all too real for a person struggling with schizophrenia. With this disease, hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination.

These are unshakable beliefs in something that is not true or based in reality. For example, a person experiencing a delusion may think they are being harassed by an individual or perhaps they think they have exceptional ability or fame. The point is that delusions involve mistaken perceptions to individual experiences and cause a person to act both erratically and sometimes irrationally.

Disorganized Thinking and Speech
Schizophrenia can sometimes impact a person’s ability to effectively communicate, making their responses to questions partially or completely unrelated.

While these are not the only symptoms associated with schizophrenia, they are some of the more prominent signs. Paying attention to these personal experiences and pursuing clinical help is the only way to begin addressing their existence and alleviating the negative impact they can have on your life.

Schizophrenia and Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder is the most common co-occurring disorder in people with schizophrenia. In fact, recent studies have indicated that nearly 34% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia also met the diagnosis for an alcohol use disorder in their lifetime.

The reasoning behind these elevated numbers include:

  • A desire to escape a distorted reality through self-medication
  • A means of detaching from negative social consequences like poverty
  • A response to a lifetime of limited opportunity
  • A way to develop an identity outside of mental illness

Perhaps the most confounding reason that someone living with schizophrenia turns to alcoholism is to develop a social connectedness with other people living with the disease of alcohol addiction.

This desire to find a place to belong can drive someone to ignore the importance of taking prescribed medications in favor of establishing a consistent social network, regardless of its destructive nature.

The concerning results of these co-occurring disorders are the manner in which they have been shown to instigate extremely negative social consequences, such as higher rates of homelessness, hospitalizations and even incarceration. (2)

Alcohol and Schizophrenia are Co-Occurring Disorders

There is no quick way to treat a co-occurring disorder, let alone two serious diseases such as alcohol addiction and schizophrenia. For individuals living with these conditions, it is imperative to first admit that a problem exists and then work with family and loved ones to locate a facility capable of treating both diseases simultaneously.

Only through a comprehensive and focused approach can all the symptoms associated with these serious illnesses be appropriately addressed and treated. Remember, the journey is long, but the happiness associated with a clean lifestyle and controlled mind state makes it all worthwhile in the end.

Life-Changing, Holistic Co-Occurring Addiction Treatment at Ranch Creek Recovery

The self-perpetuating cycle you’re caught up in doesn’t have to rule your life forever. You can face your co-occurring hurdles head-on with professional help and individualized support at Ranch Creek Recovery.

Learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment program or contact us today to get your questions answered and learn more about our all-encompassing approach to co-occurring disorder treatment.



1) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Accessed May 7, 2019 https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf.

2) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia. Accessed May 7, 2019. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/99-102.pdf