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What is Comorbidity?

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If an individual has Substance Use Disorder (SUD), there is a likelihood that that person is also suffering from another psychological or physical disorder. If a person is suffering from co-occurring disorders, this is called a comorbidity.


Some of the common mental comorbidities that are diagnosed in SUD patients are:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Conduct disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)


Some of the common physical comorbidities include:

  • Viral hepatitis
  • HIV
  • Tuberculosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol


Although SUD commonly occurs with other mental illnesses, that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that one caused the other, even if one appeared first. Drug abuse may increase the symptoms of another mental illness, mental disorders can lead to SUD, or they can exist independently.


Tracy Van Horn, Program Director at Symetria Recovery in College Station, Texas, and a licensed professional counselor, says diagnosing a comorbidity in a patient is part of a natural process in a comprehensive treatment program.


“We do three different assessments of a new patient: a doctor’s assessment, a nurse’s assessment and a counselor’s assessment,” Van Horn explained. “Sometimes comorbidity comes up during assessment, sometimes it comes up during treatment.”


Every patient is different, but comorbidities can make recovery from SUD more difficult and may require more intense treatment. The most effective treatments address each of the patient’s comorbidities at the same time.

“At Symetria, it’s very important that the patient be engaged with the counselors, nurses, doctors and other staff," Van Horn said. “A positive, engaging therapeutic relationship within the program builds trust; allowing the patient to feel comfortable being honest and secure as they journey through recovery. This is how Symetria saves lives.”

Dale Willenbrink
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