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What Is the Common Comorbidity in Substance Abuse?

What Is the Common Comorbidity in Substance Abuse?

Learn about the common comorbidities in substance use and how to manage the conditions.

What Is Comorbidity?

Comorbidities are any two or more co-occurring illnesses. With substance abuse, this involves dependency and health complications connected to drug use. Comorbidities are one of the main barriers between dependency and sober living.

Historically, western medicine overlooked co-occurring illnesses, often resulting in ineffective recovery care and fewer people going to recovery. Thankfully, in the last couple of decades, medical professionals began researching the comorbidities in substance abuse, which has led to dual diagnoses treatments.

Nonetheless, diagnosing and treating comorbidities still come with unique challenges. For example, many substance abuse-related comorbidities share similar symptoms. So, it can be difficult for a medical professional to diagnose where one condition begins, and another ends.


How Is a Comorbidity Different from a Complication?

The difference between complication and comorbidity is that a complication is a medical condition that’s unrelated to the primary illness. For example, a person with substance abuse issues and a sprained ankle would be described as having a complication. Comparatively, substance abuse issues and mental illness would be comorbidity as mental illness directly correlates to substance use.

Comorbidities are also much harder to treat, diagnose, and monitor than complications. There is also a difference between morbidities and comorbidities, as morbidities apply when a severe condition occurs by itself.

Who’s More Likely to Have Comorbidities?

People with underlying health conditions and older adults are more likely to suffer from comorbidities; however, everyone is susceptible to dual illnesses. Individuals without a medical history of illness may experience greater difficulty obtaining the correct dual diagnoses as doctors will have to start from square one.

Examples of comorbidities include:

This list serves as a small portion of possible comorbidities. Also, the symptoms associated with comorbidities vary in intensity.

What Are Comorbid Conditions: Common Comorbidities

Common comorbidities change based on environment, race, and other individual factors. Here’s a list of common comorbidities:


Obesity is one of the most common ailments among Americans. This is due to attributes of an American diet such as greasy foods, processed foods, and larger serving sizes. In addition, obesity also has genetic origins as some people are far more prone to gaining weight than others.

Obesity, in its worst form, impairs breathing, puts additional strain on the heart, impacts self-image, which leads to mental illnesses, and can even limit specific job opportunities.

Unfortunately, obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death. One of the biggest issues with obesity is that the general public has only a vague perception of what it is. The physical attributes aren’t necessarily signs of obesity, but rather the percentage of overall body fat and diet discern whether or not one can be considered medically obese.


Diabetes is a common comorbidity that impacts how the body processes food, sugar, and glucose. Severe symptoms of diabetes include comas, amputation, poor blood flow, and lethargy.

Diabetic comorbidities include mental illness issues, eating disorders, renal failure, and hypertension.

While it’s most common to have one to two conditions at a time, it’s possible to have multiple medical comorbidities. Each comorbidity will add another layer of difficulty when diagnosing the conditions. It will take time and specialists to figure out where one illness ends and another begins.

Psychiatric Comorbidities

Comorbid medical conditions often involve mental illnesses. This is especially true in cases of substance abuse. Substance abuse comorbidity disrupts the production of brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and other mood-related chemicals.

Mental illnesses can impact virtually every bodily system. As such, it’s important that mental illness and any major comorbid condition be treated.

Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is a medical term referring to having a mental illness and substance use disorder. Studies have shown that 50% of those with mental illness also have substance dependency. The overlap is because individuals with underlying mental health issues often cannot maintain a positive, healthy mindset.

Substance dependency makes it difficult for the brain to make positive chemicals naturally. Over time, a person may begin to rely entirely on a drug or alcohol to feel positive. Once that point comes, dependency has fully set in and leads to comorbidities and mental health issues.

Depression and Anxiety

Is depression a comorbidity? Yes. Depression and anxiety are mental illnesses that impact how a person views life. Both diseases can limit a person’s ability to feel positive and maintain upward mobility in their career and personal life.

Over time, depression and anxiety can increase gray matter in the brain—an excess of gray matter can block and slow neurological pathways needed for clear thought. The result is that it becomes difficult to think of positive thoughts or overcome the challenges of daily life. As common causes for comorbid disorders, depression and anxiety treatment are essential to most recovery forms.

How Does Comorbidity Affect Treatment Plans?

Comorbid medical conditions change how both disorders are treated. For example, treating only depression in a person with comorbid substance use disorder may ease the symptoms of depression momentarily; however, without a healthy way to deal with their drug cravings, the substance use disorder will still persist. Continued substance use will worsen the mental health disorder and vice versa. This circular nature of substance use and mental illness is what leads many to relapse.

Functional Limitations

Functional limitations are cognitive disabilities that prevent a person from logical thinking. Without logical thinking, a person may lack the forethought needed to avoid drug use. These limitations often arise from long-term drug and alcohol use in terms of comorbidities. It will often take a combination of medicine and therapy to overcome this setback.


Physical disabilities can cause a person to develop depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders. Instead of curing the disability, the focus is on a person gaining a more positive perspective. Also, physical ailments are considered complications as opposed to any comorbid disorders.


Frailty makes a person more prone to injury and increases the body’s time to heal. From a diagnostic perspective, a doctor is less likely to do invasive surgery and prevents specific prescriptions.

Adverse Drug Reactions

Drug allergies can occur in anyone. Without a medical history, a patient or doctor will be unaware of the allergy. This can lead to a comorbid medical condition and otherwise disrupt a correct diagnosis.

Tips to Manage Comorbidities

Tips to Manage Comorbidities​
Treating comorbidity requires specialized care. Any major comorbid condition runs the risk of causing long-term symptoms. That’s why different doctors are needed for either illness. If you suffer from multiple conditions, consulting multiple specialized doctors will give you the best chance for recovery. Here are a few tips for treating comorbidities:


Counselors help treat comorbid medical conditions by teaching healthy coping mechanisms and providing resources. Counselors also have experience with comorbidities, mental health, and other factors.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help retrain fine motor skills. Long-term drug use and/or trauma can limit mobility, causing complications down the line, although it isn’t comorbidity.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists (OT) help ensure a person performs at their best. An OT is available to those who need help completing everyday tasks, especially when suffering from mental illness and a comorbid medical condition.

The healing process may seem difficult, but you do not have to take the journey alone. To learn more about the recovery process, reach out to our team at J. Flowers today.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.

What is an Intervention?

In a situation involving substance use disorder, planning an intervention may be the best, and safest, option to help someone who is living with an addiction. So, what does intervention mean? An intervention is a strategically planned process of confronting the person who is living with addiction about the consequences of their actions while simultaneously encouraging them to accept help and treatment for their addiction.1

The key feature of an intercession is that while it can be an immensely helpful option in convincing a person that they should seek treatment, it should not be done solely by friends and family members. Without the aid of a specialist, or someone who is equally trained in the process of interventions, an intervention may do more harm than good.

An intervention specialist is someone that has been professionally trained in helping people break free from their addictions. They can help a person without judgment, emotions, or blame to understand how their actions are negatively impacting themselves and those that they care about.

When performed properly, without judgment or pressure, and with the aid of a qualified intercession specialist, 80-90% of substance use interventions are successful in convincing the patient to seek help.

Early Intervention

Treatment is more effective the earlier that it begins for an alcohol or drug abuse disorder. As with any other health condition, early intervention and treatment can prevent more significant problems further on in life.

Unfortunately, in many cases, an alcohol addiction intervention or a drug abuse intercession does not take place until most other options have been exhausted. It can be difficult for those struggling with a substance use disorder to realize or admit that they need help.

It often takes a life-altering event, such as a divorce, loss of employment, or a housing crisis for a person to be willing to seek treatment. Because early
alcohol and drug intercession can be so beneficial, first responders must be able to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse.3

What is a Nursing Intervention?

Nursing interventions are often the first time a patient will experience care for their disorder. It takes place when someone enters a care facility such as a clinic or hospital for a condition that may or may not be caused or exacerbated by their substance use disorder.

After initial evaluation and stabilization, a nurse will take action to help their patient by suggesting healthy physical or emotional coping mechanisms for a patient that wants to quit using the substance that they are addicted to. The nurse will also be able to offer education and information to the patient about other treatment facilities or care providers that can help them on their road to recovery.

Alcohol Intervention

A Further Look at Interventions

Nearly 50% of adults in America regularly drink alcohol, and it is believed that as many as 25% of those Americans have an alcohol addiction, most commonly in the form of binge drinking. In many situations, once a person with an alcohol use disorder realizes the way that alcohol is negatively impacting their life, they can reduce the amount that they drink, or even quit entirely, without outside assistance.

However, some people that have an alcohol use disorder are unable to see how their addiction is negatively affecting them. In this situation, an alcohol use intercession can be extremely beneficial. Some of the benefits of interventions include:

Drug Intervention

A Further Look at Interventions

Over nineteen million adults struggle with a drug abuse disorder and of those, nearly 74% also struggle with a co-existing alcohol abuse disorder. Drug abuse and addiction can be a much harder disorder to recover from than alcohol addiction, particularly due to the high rate of co-use that most people with a substance use disorder experience.

In many cases, suddenly stopping the use of an illicit substance can be just as harmful, if not more so than using the substance itself. The side effects and withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience when they decide to stop using a substance can be severe and at times life-threatening.

Luckily, substance use is a highly treatable disorder and several medications can help a person wean off of illicit substances in a safe, sustained, and monitored manner. A drug abuse intervention can help someone realize that they have options and that they can recover safely and healthily.

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.