Acquire More Addiction Treatment Patients by Addressing Co-Occurring Disorders

An analysis of co-occurring disorder messaging from the 2020 Guide to Marketing Addiction Treatment to Millennials

Bottom Line

The right brand messaging that supports co-occurring disorder treatment at your facility will increase profitability by increasing admissions while lowering your cost per admission.


Millennials are diagnosed with more mental health issues than previous generations, and most of those presenting with substance use disorders also suffer from co-occurring mental health issues. By speaking to co-occurring disorders in their marketing, addiction treatment providers have an opportunity during the decision-making process to show that they can meet more of their clients’ individual needs.

Addiction treatment providers should communicate directly with those suffering from co-occurring disorders because that population isn’t finding information that relates to their complex needs. This offers an opportunity to reach a large and fast-growing segment of the market better.

The providers who address co-occurring disorders and align their messaging and services with these shifts in the market will be the ones to earn a greater share of the market, have greater success rates, and strongly position themselves to succeed in the future.

Who Are Millennials

First, let’s start with who we are referring to when we say ‘Millennials.’ There are varying definitions of what a Millennial actually is, but for the sake of our research, we looked at those born between 1980 and 2000.

Why Co-Occurring Disorders Are Important to Millennials

More than 9 million people (3.7% of people 18 years of age and older) have a co-occurring disorder.1 Of those who have substance use disorder and a co-occurring disorder, 90% do not receive treatment for it.1 This is a largely untapped opportunity for those organizations that treat substance abuse disorder with co-occurring mental illness.

Why Co-Occurring Disorders will be Important to Gen Z

Most adolescents seeking addiction treatment have a co-occurring mental illness. In addition, one of four of those with a serious mental illness also have a co-occurring substance use disorder.1 Mental illness and substance use disorder are closely linked, and marketers in the addiction treatment industry will have greater and more sustainable success growing admissions by addressing co-occurring disorders with the market before the sale.

Millennials Are More Likely to Talk About Mental Health

Millennials are different from previous generations when it comes to the openness surrounding mental illness. A study by American University reports that Millennials started hearing about depression, anxiety, suicide, and eating disorders from when they were young.2 As a result, they are more accepting of people with mental illness.

There is a healthy cycle going on right now with Millennials and their awareness and openness about their mental health. Millennials are more likely to talk about mental health than their parents or grandparents. As more people speak out, the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen2 As the stigma is reduced, their willingness to be open about their issues increases.

Treatment centers that take advantage of this willingness to talk about co-occurring mental health issues alongside the substance use disorder conversation will build trust and loyalty with those seeking treatment.

The Importance of Resonating with Your Target Audience

Your goal is to connect with your target audience in relevant ways. To do so, be useful and informative rather than trying to be dazzling and promotional. Specifically, you can resonate with your target audience by building trust. As your authenticity shows through, it will help increase conversions. You’ll also lower the cost of each client acquisition because your marketing techniques are now more effective. And, of course, the sum of all this increases your company’s profitability.

Co-Occurring Disorders are the Future of the Treatment Market

The data suggests that opioid misuse has decreased significantly over the past few years. According to the latest data, opioid misuse among adults is down 20%, and among 18-25 year-olds specifically, opioid misuse is down 36% since 2015. Meanwhile, the number of people being diagnosed and seeking help with mental health issues has increased significantly. In the same time frame, serious mental illness diagnoses have increased by more than 40% among adults.3 Treatment programs have an opportunity today to evolve their marketing toward the future of the industry, which is healing substance addiction and mental illness together. While the treatment of co-occurring disorders is common in the treatment industry, programs do not prominently feature this kind of treatment in their marketing messaging. Those treatment programs that put the treatment of mental illness in their marketing messaging as a primary message, rather than as an afterthought, will be rewarded with customer loyalty, brand trust, and admissions.

The Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Now that we’ve established that it’s important to address the mental health issues that are co-occurring with a substance use disorder, let’s talk about the most common issues facing Millennials: depression, anxiety, and trauma (PTSD). Others are also important to mention, like bipolar disorder and anger management issues. Our interviews with clinicians across different addiction treatment facilities consistently mentioned that most of their clientele presented with at least one of the common co-occurring disorders. When asked which mental health issues her clients most frequently suffer from, one clinician answered, “I would say depression, anxiety, bipolar, and PTSD.” Another responded, “I know kind of what it takes to help people that are resistant and, let’s say, have some certain anger and social anxiety issues, which I find a lot of my clients have.” For many addiction treatment clients, this isn’t their first rodeo. They have been through treatment before. Approximately 90% of people with alcohol use disorder experience at least one relapse within four years of receiving treatment.4 Generally, relapse rates for all substance use disorders ranges from 40% to 60% within one year after treatment.5 As a licensed therapist named James stated during an interview about co-occurring disorders, when asked how many of his clients were aware of their co-occurring disorder before entering treatment, he replied that 60% know they struggle with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder because they have been diagnosed in the past.

What to Do Next

Now that you know you need to start speaking honestly to your market about their co-occurring mental health issues, you should start by rethinking the way you present your services to your market. You always want to make sure that you have something unique to your program, we know that.

Consider how you can take what is unique to your brand and authentically communicate the way that you handle the mental health issues that affect your clients. If you are a holistic treatment center whose differentiator is that you offer alternative substance use disorder treatments, then consider adding messaging that also speaks about how your facility also offers non-traditional treatments for anxiety and depression.

Website A/B Tests

The most effective way to find the messaging that works best at generating admissions to your program is to test the new verbiage on your website. Website testing is relatively inexpensive, and it’s reliable. Create a variation of your homepage first to include messaging about mental health issues that occur with substance use disorders, then test that variation against your existing homepage.

We use Google Optimize to handle the testing, but there are other options for running A/B tests that also work well, like Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer.

Strengthen Your Brand Voice with Consistency

When you’ve nailed your messaging through testing, start spreading it throughout your operations and your marketing. Add it to your brochures and your booklets. Train your admissions team and business development teams on which co-occurring mental health issues they should be speaking about and how to present your program’s solutions to the problems.

Need Help With Your Messaging?

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  4. Polich, J.M.; Armor, D.J.; and Braiker, H.B. Stability and change in drinking patterns. In The Course of Alcoholism: Four Years After Treatment. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1981. pp. 159-200
  5. McLellan AT, Lewis DC, O’Brien CP, Kleber HD. Drug dependence, a chronic medical illness: implications for treatment, insurance, and outcomes evaluation. JAMA. 2000;284(13):1689–1695