What Are Co-Occurring Disorders

 In Addiction Treatment

Co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, mean individual is struggling with both a mental illness and a substance addiction. Although addiction and mental illness are two separate diagnoses, they often go hand-in-hand. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about one of half of those who struggle with a mental illness may also experience an addiction disorder and vice versa. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to determine if the addiction is encouraging symptoms of mental illness or if the mental illness is encouraging the addiction. Fortunately, with understanding and the appropriate treatment, the struggles that accompany the cycle of co-occurring disorders can be dealt with.

Diagnosing Co-Occurring Disorders

Diagnosing co-occurring disorders is sometimes difficult. This is due to the fact that the symptoms of mental illness are often confused with the symptoms of addiction and the symptoms of addiction often mask the symptoms of mental illness. There are basically two problems that are entwined and unfortunately, the symptoms of both disorders may mask or cover-up the symptoms of each individual disorder. It is also common for those with a mental health disorder to avoid addressing their addiction because they do not believe that the substance use is relevant to their mental health and vice versa.  Due to the overlapping of symptoms of both disorders, it is crucial that the person receives treatment for both the addiction and the mental illness together. When the disorders are treated together, there is much less risk of the symptoms of the disorder not being treated overwhelming the person, resulting in self-medicating or avoiding treatment altogether.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

For some people, the overwhelming symptoms of a mental illness may cause them to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a form of coping with their symptoms. On the other hand, someone with an addiction disorder may experience a wide range of symptoms that intensify the symptoms of a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. Those suffering from co-occurring disorders often feel as those the substance use allows them to handle the difficulties of their mental illness. Symptoms of a co-occurring disorder may include:

  • Using or abusing drugs and alcohol to contract the symptoms of mental illness; for instance, binge drinking to overcome periods of depression.
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Inability to control substance use
  • Needing to use substance of choice to simply get through everyday life
  • Risky behaviors resulting from substance use
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is extremely essential in order to fully heal from the addiction as well as manage the mental illness. It is important to note that treating either the addiction or the mental illness without treating the other is generally unsuccessful. A co-occurring disorder treatment program will take your entire history into account in order to help you identify as well as overcome the root cause of the mental illness and the addiction. Integrated treatment is critical because it allows for all difficulties (symptoms) to be handled. Addressing both disorders at the same time allows both the treatment team and the individual to identify any and all underlying problems, which allows you to heal as a whole instead of simply managing the symptoms of much deeper issues.

It is important to note that while living with the co-occurring disorder may be challenging, with the appropriate treatment and support, you can overcome the obstacles. By treating mental health issues and addiction disorders together, you can learn to balance both and overcome the effects of both issues.  Not all treatment programs are designed to handle co-occurring disorders, so it is important to select a treatment center that can deal with multiple issues, which will ultimately allow you to get the relief you need. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, contact us today. At North Hills Addiction Treatment Center, we are waiting for your call.

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