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What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

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Approximately 7.9 million adults in the United States struggle with co-occurring disorders.

Co-occurring disorders, also known at dual-diagnoses, are defined at the coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder. These disorders impact nearly every aspect of an individual’s mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual life. Because both mental health and substance use disorders impact all aspects of a person wellbeing, diagnosing both disorders can be difficult. Many times, the overlap and complexity of symptoms, many people receive treatment for one disorder while the other disorder remains untreated. This can increase the likelihood of consequences such as overdose, suicide, homelessness or incarceration.

Co-Occurring Disorders Are Common

According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS), about 45% of Americans seeking addiction treatment have been diagnosed as having co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. This includes mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression. These conditions must be treated simultaneously alongside the disease of addiction in order to achieve sustained recovery. After primary addiction treatment, an aftercare plan will recommend continuing care options to address such conditions.

Co-occurring conditions that are often seen and treated include:

  • Mood disorders: Clinical depression is debilitating. Along with anxiety, it is the primary co-occurring diagnosis cited by those seeking recovery. Anxiety includes a large spectrum of emotional experiences, from stressful reactions to everyday situations to extreme anxiety such as PTSD.
  • PTSD: Both men and women suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is precipitated by traumatic experiences in one’s life. Many women in drug and alcohol treatment have been the victim of some form of verbal and physical abuse. Disassociation from self and events, anger, depression, high anxiety, and insomnia are some symptoms of PTSD.
  • Process addictions: Eating disorders and disordered eating are common among women. An eating disorder can also be a cross-addiction occurring alongside alcohol addiction. Eating disorders are among the most life-threatening of all mental disorders. They include unspecific disordered eating, anorexia, bulimia, or a combination of all these conditions. Shopping, gambling, and sex process addictions may also co-occur with a substance use disorder or they may be cross-addicting behaviors.
  • Personality disorders: These include borderline personality disorders (BPD), histrionic, and narcissistic disorders. Other examples might be obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, schizoid, avoidant, and dependent personality disorders.

There is no one cause of addiction, though living with a mental health disorder may increase the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder — and vice versa. Everyone is different. In some cases, a mental health disorder predates the development of a drug or alcohol abuse. In other cases, mental health symptoms are not apparent until after addiction has taken hold — sometimes, these conditions are exacerbated or worsened by drug use.

Treatment Begins With Assessment

It is important that every patient receiving treatment take part in thorough behavioral health assessment. This ensures that to ensure that all substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders are diagnosed and treated. From an assessment, treatment providers can develop a plan for healing that guides the way to sustained recovery.

Integrated Treatment

Integrated treatment is comprehensive programming that offers all of the therapeutic resources necessary to help the individual heal physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. Research shows that an integrated approach to co-occurring disorders results in the best possible outcomes. This means that co-occurring disorders must be treated at the same time, in the same place, by the same treatment team. Today, this is considered the best evidence-based plan for sustained recovery.

Co-occurring disorders much be treated with a comprehensive array of services. These services include:

  • Psychiatric care
  • Medical oversight
  • Pharmacological treatment
  • Evidence-based therapies
  • Case management
  • Family psychoeducation and programming
  • Life skills training
  • Spiritual support

These interventions must be high-individualized and tailored to each client.

There is no cure for co-occurring disorders, but people can and do recover.

While there is no cure for any mental health disorder, including addiction, many go on to lead incredible lives filled with hope and courage. Numerous research-based therapies and treatment interventions have been proven to be effective in treating those who are living with co-occurring diagnoses. The key is receiving personalized treatment that is intensive and integrated. When long-term support and therapeutic interventions are applied, people with co-occurring disorders can recover.

If you are ready to discuss your addiction, please free to call us anytime at (844-843-8935).