Co-Occurring Disorders in Women: Which Are The Most Common?

Dual-Diagnosis Disorders among Women

Any combination of mental illness and co-occurring addiction is referred to as a dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. According to the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, women are at a higher risk for developing a co-occurring disorder.1

Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that approximately 4.3 million women (about 3% of all women in the United States) have both a substance use disorder and a serious mental illness.2

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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

The diagnosis of a co-occurring disorder in women may be an indicator of previous trauma, as women with dual-diagnoses are more likely to have been victims of interpersonal violence.

As many as 80% of women seeking treatment for substance abuse have reported a history of sexual or physical assault.3 This previous trauma often results in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that can occur after a person survives a traumatic event of some type.

Previous research shows that as many as 6 in 10 women with addiction also suffer from PTSD.4

Childhood trauma is a good indicator of future mental health and substance abuse problems among women.5 Studies have shown that the severity of addiction in women is directly related to childhood sexual abuse.6


Research shows that women are nearly twice as likely men to suffer from depression.7 Women struggling from depression are at an increased risk of using substances, and women who use substances are at an increased risk of being depressed.8

The co-occurrence of depression and a substance use disorder is common, with some studies estimating that nearly half of women with addiction also suffer from major depression.9

Other Co-Occurring Disorders

Some of the other mental illnesses in women that commonly co-occur with substance abuse include anxiety disorders and eating disorders. 10

Other less common co-occurring mental health disorders in women include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Treatment Options

Women are less likely than men to pursue substance abuse treatment due to the fear and stigma involved in receiving treatment.1 Unfortunately, many of the women with a dual diagnosis who do enter rehab programs experience poor treatment outcomes.11

This can be partly explained by the fact that most unisex treatment centers are not equipped or properly trained to treat the issues of most concern for many women, including childhood trauma and abuse.

If you or someone you know is a woman struggling to cope with co-occurring disorders, please know that help is available. Contact an addiction specialist today to find a drug rehab facility that offers integrated treatment plans specially designed for women with a dual diagnosis.

Integrated programs can address both your substance abuse and co-occurring mental illness, reducing the likelihood of relapse after treatment and making it much easier to stay on the path to sobriety. These programs should also take the specific needs of a woman into account, touching on important topics such as relationship dynamics, family and children, economics, legal issues, and safety.10


  1. National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors. (2019). Dual Diagnosis in Women: Diagnosis, Self-Harm, and Treatment.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 8.9A Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder and Any Mental Illness in Past Year among Persons Aged 18 or Older, by Age Group and Demographic Characteristics: Numbers in Thousands, 2017 and 2018.
  3. Cohen, L.R., & Hien, D.A. (2006). Treatment outcomes for women with substance abuse and PTSD who have experienced complex trauma. Psychiatric Services 57(1), 100-106.
  4. Najavits, L.M., Weiss, R.D., & Shaw, S.R. (1997). The link between substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder in women. A research review. The American Journal on Addictions, 6(4), 273-283.
  5. Min, M., Farkas, K., Minnes, S., & Singer, L.T. (2007). Impact of childhood abuse and neglect on substance abuse and psychological distress in adulthood. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20(5), 833-844.
  6. Marcenko, M.O., Kemp, S.P., & Larson, N.C. (2000). Childhood experiences of abuse, later substance use, and parenting outcomes among low-income mothers. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70(3), 316-326.
  7. Mayo Clinic. (2019). Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap.
  8. Women’s College Hospital. (2019). Prevalence of women’s substance abuse.
  9. Davis, L., Uezato, A., Newell, J.M., & Frazier, E. (2008). Major depression and comorbid substance use disorders. Current Opinions in Psychiatry, 21(1), 14-8.
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 51: Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women.
  11. Conners, N.A., Grant, A., Crone, C.C., & Whiteside-Mansell, L. (2006). Substance abuse treatment for mothers: treatment outcomes and the impact of length of stay. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 31(4), 447-456.
Last Updated on Sep 15, 2022
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