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How to Treat Co-Occurring Disorders

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When people rely on alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism to deal with a mental health issue, it often leads to a co-occurring disorder. But, what are co-occurring disorders exactly? Can anyone develop one? Read on to learn more about co-occurring disorders and how they are treated. 

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States have a co-occurring disorder, according to the SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In general, a co-occurring disorder is defined as a condition where a person suffers from a substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD) and a mental health disorder. 

Since the SUD or AUD and the mental health disorder coexist simultaneously and often affect the same part of the brain, the conditions are said to co-occur. Yet, any combination of substance or alcohol addiction and a mental health condition is still considered a co-occurring disorder. 

Furthermore, even in situations where people are addicted to drugs and alcohol and have more than one mental health disorder, such as PTSD and depression, they still have a co-occurring disorder. 

What Disorder Came First?

When determining whether the mental health disorder or the SUD or AUD came first, it is easy to assume the person had the mental health disorder first. For example, some people will use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and attempt to manage their mental health conditions. 

However, they eventually spiral out of control because withdrawal becomes more severe the more dependent they become on alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, the side effects of SUD or AUD compound the mental health disorder symptoms, making it much worse. There are also cases where a person develops an addiction to alcohol or drugs, and their mental condition is a by-product of their addiction. Genetics, family history, and other factors can trigger a mental health disorder as addiction takes hold. 

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Some combinations of co-occurring disorders are more common than others, and often include these mental health disorders:  

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Personality Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Schizophrenia

Dual Diagnosis vs. Co-Occurring Disorders: Is There a Difference?

The term dual diagnosis is frequently used interchangeably with the term co-occurring disorders. Dual diagnosis is also defined as a condition where a person has an addiction to one or more substances and one or more mental health disorders. So, there is no difference between the two. However, the term co-occurring disorder tends to be used more often than dual diagnosis. 

How to Treat Co-Occurring Disorders

If someone suffers from a co-occurring disorder, it can increase the risks of accidental overdoses, suicide, violence, anger, aggression, victimization, hospitalization, incarceration, coma, and death if the condition is left untreated. Fortunately, there are effective treatment programs for co-occurring disorders using an integrated approach. 

What Is an Integrated Approach Treatment Plan?

This type of treatment plan addresses the alcohol and drug addiction problem and diagnoses and treats the mental health disorders simultaneously to have the best outcomes. For example, suppose you have a social anxiety disorder. So, you turned to drinking to lower your inhibitions and make you feel more outgoing and social. A part of your integrated treatment would include learning how to feel less anxious in social settings while also teaching you to avoid social settings where alcohol is available to reduce the risks of relapse. For an integrated treatment to be successful, it must include all aspects one would expect when treating a mental health disorder and all aspects of treating SUD or AUD. 

Why Do Both Disorders Need to Be Treated at The Same Time?

Some people might assume that it would be easier to treat the disorders separately. However, while one disorder is being treated, the other one is left untreated. Since the disorders coexist and are intertwined, relapse is often inevitable because one disorder fueled the other. For example, suppose a young man is suffering from depression. Rather than seeking help, he turned to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate since he was brought up to believe that admitting one has a mental health disorder is a sign of weakness. If substance abuse is treated first, the young man would still suffer from depression. So, since he turned to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, there would be a high probability that we would do the same again.  Conversely, if his depression were treated first, the young man would experience all the withdrawal symptoms from the substances he abused but not have any support for dealing with his addiction. So, without this support, he would likely return to drinking and using drugs. 

Can Anyone Develop a Co-Occurring Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research into co-occurring disorders has discovered that about half of the people with SUD or AUD will also experience a mental health disorder and vice versa. So, if you have a mental health disorder or struggle with substance misuse, there is a 50% chance you could develop a co-occurring disorder. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders in Orange County, CA

When you know you are suffering from a mental health disorder and are addicted to drugs and alcohol, you can get dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders at Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA. We offer custom-tailored treatment plans to help treat SUD, AUD, and mental health disorders simultaneously. For further information on getting help for your co-occurring disorder, please feel free to visit our admissions page or give us a call to speak with an intake specialist today.


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