Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders

The experts at SAMHSA explain what are called co-occurring disorders

March 4, 2022
Woman dealing with mental health issues

Mental health and substance use disorders affect people from all walks of life and all age groups. These illnesses are common, recurrent and often serious, but they are treatable and many people do recover. Mental disorders involve changes in thinking, mood, and/or behavior. These disorders can affect how we relate to others and make choices. Reaching a level that can be formally diagnosed often depends on a reduction in a person’s ability to function as a result of the disorder. For example:

  • Serious mental illness is defined by someone over 18 having (within the past year) a diagnosable mental, behavior or emotional disorder that causes serious functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • For people under the age of 18, the term “Serious Emotional Disturbance” refers to a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder in the past year, which resulted in functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits the child’s role or functioning in family, school, or community activities.
  • Substance use disorders occur when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home.

The coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder is referred to as co-occurring disorders. The National Institute for Mental Health’s Mental Health Information page has information about specific conditions and disorders as well as their symptoms.

SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of mental and substance use disorders on America’s communities. SAMHSA works to prevent and treat mental and substance use disorders and provide supports for people seeking or already in recovery.

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