Many people who seek treatment for substance use disorder are also suffering from one or more mental health conditions. In some cases, these mental health conditions are already known and sometimes they are undiagnosed. When a person suffers from a substance abuse or addiction-related issue and a mental health condition it is known as a co-occurring disorder.
Co-occurring substance use disorder treatment is crucial to the overall well-being of the person in treatment. Not only does co-occurring substance use disorder treatment address addiction but it also addresses any mental health issues that might have either played a role in the development of the addiction or come about as a result of the person’s substance abuse.
The correlation between substance abuse and addiction and mental health conditions is two-fold.
For many, the development of a substance abuse issue is the result of an underlying mental health condition, either diagnosed or undiagnosed. They may not properly understand the extent of their condition, be too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help, or not have adequate mental help treatment available to them.
For whatever reason, it is not uncommon for those suffering mentally to turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a way of self-medicating so that they can feel better or even normal, even if that feeling is only brief. While at the time, this form of self-medication might seem effective and might even work, long term not only is it actually making the mental health condition worse in many cases, but it is also increasing the risk of the development of a substance use disorder.
While not as common, there are also times when a person’s substance abuse can lead to the development of a mental health condition that might not have previously existed or been known.
Heavy drinking and drug use can cause chemical changes in the brain. When that happens it can “trigger” a mental health condition that might have previously been dormant or lead to the development of a new mental health condition as a result of the damage that has been done to the brain from the drugs and alcohol.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), over 9 million American adults suffer from a co-occurring disorder, with the majority being men.
Below are some additional statistics about the prevalence of co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders:
- People suffering from drug addiction are approximately 1.3 times more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety
- Roughly 20% of all people that are diagnosed with a mental health condition also suffer from a substance use disorder
- More than 50% of those who suffer from a co-occurring disorder never get the proper treatment (cost of treatment is the biggest reason)
- Adults between the ages of 18 and 26 have the highest rate of co-occurring disorders
While there are slight differences in the three terms dual diagnosis, co-occurring disorders, and comorbidity, for the most part, they are interchangeable and used to describe the same thing.
Dual diagnosis is a psychiatric term used to describe a person who experiences two or more psychiatric conditions simultaneously, each as a distinct diagnosis. The term was coined in the 1980s to describe a person suffering from a mental health condition and a substance use disorder at the same time.
Since the early 2000s, the term dual diagnosis has been slowly replaced with co-occurring disorders when describing someone suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. When a person suffers from a co-occurring disorder, each condition could be described as a comorbidity of the other. However, the term comorbidity is far more commonly used in the traditional medical health field to describe the co-existence of multiple medical issues.
While any combination of one or more mental health disorders and a substance use disorder can be considered a co-occurring disorder, there are several “combinations” that are fairly common.
Some mental health conditions that commonly occur as a part of a co-occurring disorder include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
- Major depressive disorder
- Personality disorders
Those suffering from a mental health condition are also likely to use and abuse any of the following substances:
- Prescription drugs
Signs and Symptoms
Knowing the signs and symptoms of a potential co-occurring disorder early on can help in getting you or a loved one the treatment they need before their condition continues to worsen.
Below are some of the signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for when it comes to someone suffering from a co-occurring disorder:
- Sudden, unexplained changes in behavior
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Using substances in dangerous conditions
- Performing risky behavior
- Being unable to control how much they drink or do drugs
- Being unable to stop abusing substances
- Experiencing cravings
- Experiencing extreme withdrawal symptoms
- Struggling to think or focus clearly
- Increased irritability
- Experiencing hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions
- Struggling at work or school
- Getting into financial or legal trouble as a result of their substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from a co-occurring disorder, it is crucial to get them the help that they need right away. Unfortunately, less than half of all people who suffer from a co-occurring disorder get the proper treatment for their conditions.
Many addiction treatment centers also offer treatment programs to address mental health conditions along with substance abuse disorders.
Before treatment can begin though, the first step is to undergo detoxification in order to rid the body of all the harmful substances that are in it in order to begin the healing process.
When not done under the proper medical care and supervision, detox can be quite dangerous due to the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with it. That’s why it is often suggested that detox be done at either a local medical facility, a dedicated detox center, or a treatment center that also offers detox services so that you can be properly monitored. Not only can self-detox be potentially life-threatening, but it can also greatly increase the risk of a relapse.
Once detox has been successfully completed, the next step is to enter into a dual-diagnosis treatment program to address both the mental health condition and substance use disorder. When it comes to treating mental health conditions and substance abuse issues simultaneously, the most common and successful type of treatment is integrated treatment. In fact, studies have shown that people who participate in integrated treatment for their co-occurring disorders are more likely to stay sober, see a significant reduction of their symptoms, visit the hospital less often, live independently, maintain steady employment, and report feeling happier with their lives.
The ultimate goal of integrated treatment is to address their substance abuse issues while also learning healthier ways to manage the symptoms of their mental health condition without the use of drugs or alcohol. Integrated treatment can be done as both an inpatient or outpatient program and utilizes many different types of therapies to help address both substance abuse and mental health disorders.
Some therapies that are used during integrated treatment include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Motivational enhancement
- Contingency management
- Support groups
- Individual and group therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
The goal of these types of therapies is to help us better identify the cause or causes of our mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Once we learn the underlying causes or triggers, we can then learn better ways to address these triggers going forward without the use of drugs or alcohol.
Far too often, people suffering from substance use and mental health disorders don’t get the proper treatment that they need. Instead, they continue to self-medicate which just makes both their mental illness and substance abuse even worse.
At Adler Health we understand the importance of treating not just a person’s substance abuse issues but also addressing any underlying mental health conditions that they also might be suffering from. After all, if the mental health side of things is not properly addressed, then they can’t begin to truly recover from their substance use disorder.
We treat a variety of different mental health conditions including:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar disorder
If you or a loved one is in need of mental health treatment, either to go along with substance abuse treatment or on its own, contact us today to get started.