Co-Occurring Disorders Are More Common in Women

women's dual diagnosis treatment centers

In our last blog post about women and substance abuse, we discussed the narrowing gender gap in drug use among our youth. The years when addiction was more prominent, more worrisome, in men, have now vanished. Today, the rate of substance dependence among young women has become nearly equivalent to that of young men.

As more young women are initiating drug abuse, it seems more psychological disorders are coming to surface. The co-existence of mental illness and addiction is not uncommon. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of young women suffering from addiction are also afflicted with a mental health disorder.

When multiple disorders occur in an individual, simultaneously or sequentially, they are called co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses. These terms are frequent in women’s addiction treatment centers, as substance abuse and mental illness often go hand-in-hand.

We already know that addiction is a complex disease of the brain. Because of the chemical changes that occur with drug use, substance use disorders are also considered mental health disorders. It is no wonder, then, why drugs and mental illness are so closely linked. The drug-induced changes that occur in an addicted brain often disrupt the same areas that would house other mental illnesses, too, such as depression or schizophrenia. For this reason, it has been found that a mental health disorder can increase the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder, and vice versa.

Today, co-occurring mental and substance use disorders are most commonly diagnosed in women. According to the National Comorbidity Study, 86 percent of women diagnosed with alcohol dependence have co-occurring disorders. If your daughter, wife, girlfriend, or close friend is struggling with a substance abuse problem, there is a great likelihood that she is battling something deeper, as well.

The fact is, when it comes down substance abuse, men and women have very different reasons for drug use, very different symptoms, and very distinctive coping mechanisms. While most men with substance use disorders have difficulty with work or day-to-day functioning, women with substance use disorders struggle particularly with emotional problems. For this reason, women battling addiction are more likely to have mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as low self-esteem. Consequently, they are also more prone to self-harm and eating disorders than men.

To get a fuller picture, let’s consider some of the most common co-occurring disorders among women:

  • Major Depressive Disorders: About twice as many women as men experience depression at some point in their lives. If your loved one is expressing ongoing feelings of sadness and hopelessness, or losing interest in the things she once loved, she may be depressed. 
  • Anxiety Disorders: An estimated 40 million Americans struggle with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can range from panic disorders to phobias to obsessive compulsive disorder. Women are about 60 percent more likely to possess an anxiety disorder than their male counterparts. If your loved one is experiencing obsessive thoughts, irrational fears, or panic attacks, seek help.
  • Mood Disorders: Mood disorders are psychological disorders that can be exhibited in the form of depression, self-harm, and bi-polarity. Research has shown that women are about 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with mild, moderate, or severe mood disorders than men.
  • Eating Disorders: Young women are particularly susceptible to low self-esteem and problems with their body image. This leads many girls and young adults to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic events such as abuse or a death can lead to PTSD. Traumatic experiences can also lead individuals to a state of depression, or to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. Studies have shown that 55 to 99 percent of women in drug treatment report a history of trauma. For this reason, the most reputable rehab programs today use a trauma-informed addiction treatment approach.

The cause and extent of co-occurring disorders will vary person to person. Many mental disorders play a chief role in the initiation of substance use, as women often use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate or escape from their own reality. Sometimes, however, substance use can stir or unearth psychiatric disorders. Oftentimes, there is no saying which one came first.

No matter the case, co-occurring disorders are dangerous if left unaddressed. Unattended mental health problems can, in time, severely exacerbate a woman's self-image and create emotional instability or damaged relationships in her life. Not only this, but it will increase her resistance to treatment as well as her risk for relapse.

If someone you love is suffering addiction, a mental health disorder, or both, it is crucial to address her symptoms and get professional help. Treating co-occurring disorders immediately gives young women a better chance of achieving a lasting recovery. Put her on the path to recovery today. Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn about our dual diagnosis treatment for women.