what are co-occurring disorders
Published On: October 28, 2016|Categories: Treatment|

Addiction is more complicated than someone abusing a drug, even though many stereotypical trains of thought may view it in this light. Addiction is, in fact, a complex mental and physical illness. Part of this complexity is due to the fact that it often co-occurs with a mental illness of some form, leading to a confusing mix of thoughts, emotions and subsequent behaviors.

Formerly known as a co-occurring disorder or dual-diagnosis, this mental health condition occurs when an individual is diagnosed with both a mental illness and substance use disorder.

What are co-occurring disorders?

A co-occurring disorder is the development of a mental health illness in conjunction with a substance use disorder, or vice versa. Sometimes a substance use disorder develops as a direct result of a mental illness – for example, one with PTSD might turn to the relaxing effects of alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate and cope with the symptoms of PTSD. Other times, a mental illness develops due to a substance use disorder – the stress of the financial implications of addiction may trigger anxiety or depression in some.

According to SAMHSA, “People with mental illness are more likely to experience a substance use disorder than those not affected by a mental illness. According to SAMHSA’s 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States have a co-occurring disorder.”

This does not mean that everyone who struggles with mental illness will develop a substance use disorder; however, it is a statistic that is important. It can help those who do struggle with mental health to be aware of the risk of substance use and act preventatively as a result.

What comes first – a mental illness or substance use?

This question has been asked by many, and the truth is it depends on each individual who presents in treatment. Both mental illnesses and addictions develop as a result of different factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • One’s family history, including the presence/absence of addiction and/or mental illness in the family
  • Environmental factors
  • Peer pressure

This is why some people who battle mental health never develop a substance use disorder. Certain other factors in their life may not lead them to substances.

For this reason, both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder can cause the other to develop, it just depends on the particular situations in each person’s life. If we don’t handle stress appropriately, or we find ourselves seeking unhealthy coping mechanisms, we might inadvertently cause the formation of a co-occurring disorder.

Signs of a co-occurring disorder

In order to act preventatively and take action when needed, it’s important to first know what the common signs of a co-occurring disorder are. Some common behaviors in someone struggling with a co-occurring disorder include:

  • Taking steps to isolate oneself from friends and family
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors when under the influence of a substance
  • Losing control over the use of substances
  • Exhibiting sudden changes in behavior, personality or mood
  • Experiencing sudden mood changes, confused or distorted thinking, and suicidal thoughts

Additionally, some of the more common mental illnesses that develop into a co-occurring disorder include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety and mood disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Some of the addictive substances often used to cope with symptoms of these disorders include:

  • Prescription drugs
  • Opioids
  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Stimulants

Thankfully, no matter what mental illness or substance you find yourself battling, treatment and recovery are available.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders

In treatment, it is crucial for one struggling with a co-occurring disorder to find a program adept at handling dual diagnoses. This is vital to a successful recovery because if only one aspect (either substance use disorder or mental illness) is treated, it is unlikely for recovery to be maintained.

During the process of treatment, therapists and other medical personnel will try to understand which came first: mental illness or substance abuse disorder. In other words, did abusing alcohol or other substances cause one to become depressed or does a depressed individual begin self-medicating with alcohol and/or other drugs? From there, they will work to personalize a program designed to meet your needs and goals.

Ready for recovery?

If you are seeking a treatment center equipped at handling co-occurring disorders, High Focus Centers is here to help. Walking with experts trained in dual diagnosis will not only offer you quality care but will give you the hope of long-term recovery.

To get started today, contact our offices by calling 800-877-3628 to learn more.

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