What Are Co-Occurring Disorders And How Do You Treat Them?

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders And How Do You Treat Them_

Co-Occurring Disorders – Coping or dealing with an addiction or a mental health condition is no easy task. However, the problem can be far more complicated when both health issues are present at the same time. Such cases are referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Co-occurring disorders are also known as dual diagnoses. These conditions affect approximately 9 million adults in the United States—around 3-4% of its adult population. While such health issues occur at the same time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one causes the other, and it’s not relatively easy to determine which happens first.

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction and mental health disorders, don’t hesitate to ask for medical help immediately. Getting immediate medical treatment is crucial for a successful recovery. That said, call your local rehabilitation centers for guidance and assistance, or you may visit this website online, instead.

Furthermore, continue reading to learn everything you need to know about co-occurring disorders. Also, this post will help you understand possible treatment programs you might need to achieve complete recovery. If you’re ready, you may get started.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

A person is said to be suffering from a co-occurring disorder when they exhibit symptoms of a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health problem at the same time. Because of its symptoms, you are unable to carry out day-to-day activities such as work-related responsibilities, domestic duties, and even social interactions with other people in an effective manner. In addition, it is frequently challenging to recover from either one without the other.

What makes such problems ‘co-occurring’ is that they aggravate one another. Mental health disorders often exacerbate substance abuse and vice versa. In addition, some of the most common co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Depression

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a common mental illness that usually affects how you act, think, and feel. Luckily, it’s treatable. It often causes feelings of extreme sadness and a loss of interest in most of the activities you previously loved doing. In addition, people with depression often rely on substances—drugs and alcohol—to the point of misusing them, resulting in a co-occurring disorder.

  • Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is how you react to stressful situations. It’s normal and quite beneficial for specific events. However, it becomes a disorder when you start feeling extremely nervous, frightened, and distressed. Many people with anxiety disorders rely on substances to deal with their symptoms and improve their social skills without realizing they’re abusing them.

  • Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, such as the infamous anorexia, are often seen in those who require treatment for SUD. In most cases, these people use drugs—diet pills, stimulants, and even alcohol—to suppress and satisfy their hunger without regular eating. In addition, most cases often exhibit symptoms of dysmorphic disorder, where an individual is overly critical of their body appearance—for instance, a small amount of belly fat.

  • Bipolar Disorder

People diagnosed with bipolar disorder are vulnerable to substance misuse and addiction. This mental health condition occurs when a chemical imbalance in the brain causes an individual to suffer from excessive and uncontrollable episodes of mania and depression. The majority of persons who suffer from bipolar disorder rely on medication to lessen the severity of their episodes; however, this typically results in an increase in the number of episodes and severe substance abuse.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) manifests when an individual experiences an extremely traumatic event, such as a tragic death of a loved one or a car accident. Usually, people with PTSD may experience nightmares or flashbacks. And most of them will probably drown themselves in drugs and alcohol to relieve their symptoms, which may lead to sleep disorders and emotional imbalances.

  • Personality And Mood Disorders

Personality and mood disorders include obsessive-compulsive (OCD) and borderline personality disorders (BPD), with BPD being the most common. BPD may involve symptoms, including severe mood swings, impulsive behavior, and emotional imbalance. Individuals with these conditions may experience difficulties maintaining good relationships, especially with their loved ones. As such, they rely on substances to cope with their problems.

  • Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is one of the most severe mental health disorders. It causes people to experience severe delusions, psychosis, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking. In addition, individuals with schizophrenia can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality, and it’s common for them to rely on drugs and alcohol to deal with these symptoms.

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often found in children, including young adults. As its name implies, ADHD is characterized by hyperactive behavior, lack of focus, and severe impulsiveness. Usually, children with ADHD are prescribed medications, particularly stimulants. However, such medications are often abused, to suppress their symptoms, especially by young adults.

These mental health conditions may develop due to a wide range of causes. Common reasons include genetic factors and emotional trauma. In addition, environmental influences, stress factors, and emotional imbalances may all lead to co-occurring disorders.

What Are The Symptoms Of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Substance abuse and mental illnesses have symptoms of their own. However, such symptoms may overlap. This is why it’s difficult to differentiate one from another even with the help of advanced technologies because symptoms of different conditions are becoming quite similar.

That said, here are some of the most common symptoms of mental health conditions:

  • Extreme emotional imbalances—severe highs and lows
  • Abandoning some activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Can’t concentrate or focus properly
  • Can’t distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality
  • Excessive feelings of aggressiveness and irritability
  • Can’t sleep properly
  • Excessive feelings of paranoia, fear, or delusions
  • Abandoning personal hygiene
  • Participating in risky behavior
  • Attempting suicide and related thoughts

On the other hand, here are the common symptoms of substance abuse that may overlap with mental health disorders:

  • Inability to stop using drugs and alcohol
  • Inability to maintain good relationships
  • Can’t function properly
  • Difficulty maintaining school and work responsibilities
  • Self-isolation from close friends and family
  • Tolerance of drugs, which leads to increased usage
  • Engaging in high-risk behavior, such as drunk driving
  • Drug obsession

In addition, you will quickly notice that most of these symptoms are quite the same for both conditions. Struggling with both SUD and mental illnesses can make each other worse and increase the risks of the conditions. Also, it can make the recovery process much more challenging.

How Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated?

Treating co-occurring disorders usually requires the integration of multiple therapeutic techniques. Also, keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to treating dual diagnoses. The treatment plan you provide may not be effective for someone you know, even though you’re both diagnosed with the same condition.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders And How Do You Treat Them_

While treatment plans vary depending on the severity of your mental illness and substance addiction, the following therapies may help treat co-occurring disorders. These include:

  • Detoxification

Detoxification is the process of removing traces of drugs and alcohol from your body. It is developed to help you manage your withdrawal symptoms safely when you stop using substances. Also, detox is different for every individual, depending on the drug used and how long it was consumed.

The length of detox may vary based on the following factors, such as:

  • Family history
  • Duration of addiction
  • Number of drugs consumed
  • Method of substance abuse
  • Type of substance consumed
  • Underlying health issues

Generally, detox may take days or weeks to complete. However, it’s essential not to quit, especially after heavy substance abuse. Doing so may result in serious health complications and death. In addition, some drugs, such as benzodiazepines, may require a longer detox duration—at least two weeks or longer.

  • Inpatient Rehabilitation Treatment

Inpatient rehabilitation treatment is also known as residential treatment. It requires individuals to stay in a controlled treatment environment 24/7 to recover from their addiction. In addition, this place is ideal for people who need a more intensive treatment program than outpatient rehabilitation.

Usually, inpatient rehabilitation may take around 28 days to complete. It gives you access to immediate medical assistance, especially during the initial phase of the recovery process. On top of that, they’ll provide you with a daily schedule that may help you achieve complete sobriety.

Furthermore, inpatient rehabilitation removes individuals from the stressful community. These are places that may encourage substance abuse, including households. With this treatment program, you’ll be able to focus on your recovery without unnecessary distractions.

  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Treatment

Outpatient rehabilitation allows individuals to be treated in the comfort of their homes. Instead of spending 24/7 in a rehab facility, you only need to visit your local medical center and attend treatment sessions that usually last up to 12 hours. With this, you’ll be able to work and go to school while overcoming your addiction.

Notably, treatment sessions focus on educating individuals about drug abuse, counseling them (group and individual), and teaching them how to cope without using substances. Moreover, outpatient treatment is ideal for those suffering from mild addiction. Usually, outpatient rehab may take around three to six months or over a year to complete, depending on how the person reacts to it.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of psychological treatment. It may treat various issues, such as anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, marital problems, and severe mental health conditions. Furthermore, it aims to improve the quality of life significantly. And it’s more effective compared to other psychiatric medications and psychological therapies.

CBT usually involves different techniques to modify thinking and behavioral patterns. These may include:

  • Improving problem-solving skills to address challenging situations
  • Understanding the behavior and motivation of other people
  • Developing self-confidence in one’s abilities
  • Recognizing the distortion in thinking that causes problems
  • Facing fears rather than avoiding them
  • Understanding how to cope with different situations using role-playing
  • Relaxing one’s body and calming one’s mind

In addition, they will not use all of these strategies to treat your condition at the same time. That will solely depend on the severity of your problem. So, consult your psychologist and work together with them in a collaborative manner. This will help them understand the depth of your situation and develop a treatment strategy best suited for your needs.

  • Contingency Management

Contingency management is a behavioral therapy based on the principles of operant conditioning. It works by providing incentives—something of monetary value—to individuals to encourage them not to use drugs. For example, if their urine tests negative for drug metabolites, they may be eligible to receive prizes, such as gift cards and vouchers.

However, it’s rarely available as a component of a treatment program, especially in the US. This is because it might be unlawful to provide incentives to individuals enrolled in care plans sponsored and funded by the government. Under the law, incentives can be classified as kickbacks, especially when they exceed the nominal value.

Despite the legal issues, it can’t be denied that contingency management is an effective treatment for a wide range of issues. These include stimulant use disorder—the use of cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. However, some are worried that individuals may exchange the monetary value for a new set of drugs. But with proper monitoring, it can be prevented.

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the practice of using medications—together with behavioral therapies—to treat substance use disorders. This technique is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is developed to meet every patient’s needs. In addition, these are the common medications used for addiction:

  • Naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate for alcohol use disorder
  • Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone for opioid-dependency disorders
  • Naloxone for preventing opioid overdose

Final Words

Co-occurring disorders occur when an individual suffers from substance abuse and a mental health illness simultaneously. This makes everyday living extremely difficult, especially for those experiencing severe symptoms. Therefore, if you or a loved one suffers from these conditions, waste no time and consult your doctor as soon as possible.

You’ll be introduced to a wide range of treatment programs they deem best suited for your needs. These include detoxification, inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, therapies, and medication. For the best outcome, simply follow their recommendations and never hesitate to ask for assistance when necessary.


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