Co-Occurring Disorders: Ways Addiction and Mental Illness Feed Each Other
About half of those who have mental health disorders also face substance use disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In fact, addiction and mental illness can feed each other, making it difficult to know which came first. When someone with an addiction also has a mental health disorder (such as generalized anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, or bipolar disorder), this is called a co-occurring disorder.
Do You Have Co-Occurring Disorders?
Diagnosing co-occurring disorders is difficult, even for well-trained professionals. That’s because the symptoms of substance use disorder mask those of mental illness. Yet, for your therapy to work and for you to gain stability, it’s critical to reach an accurate diagnosis.
For example, a person with drug addiction and depression may struggle with:
- The need to use (or think about using) the drug on a daily basis
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, especially without the drug
- Difficulties with relationships at home, school, or work
- The need to use more of the drug to get the same level of satisfaction
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Feelings of sadness, guilt, or shame
When you feel as though you need to use drugs in order to cope with depression, anxiety, or other feelings, that’s also a clear indication of co-occurring disorders.
What Happened First: Drugs or Mental Health Problems?
Sometimes it is helpful to determine what occurred first: the drug and alcohol use, or the mental health issues. That’s because each can trigger the other.
You may use drugs as a way to deal with your feelings, emotions, and behaviors. For example, you may say that you “drink so you don’t have to think.” You may use drugs to help you deal with the scary thoughts that play in your mind if you have post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other cases, your drug or alcohol use could have triggered mental illness. You may have been genetically predisposed to suffer mental illness, but you didn’t feel these symptoms until after you started using drugs. Cocaine use, for example, can trigger anxiety disorders and conditions such as anorexia.
While your drug and alcohol therapist will work to understand what’s happening and what happened first, the most important step is treatment.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Uncovering Help
Treatment for co-occurring disorders addresses both the mental illness and the drug and alcohol addiction. Treating both at the same time is considered the most effective way of helping people.
Treatment is vitally important for men and women with co-occurring disorders. Without treatment, you may develop more complex health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Higher risk of suicide
- Damaged relationships
- Legal problems
- Financial problems
Dual diagnosis treatment is personalized to fit your specific needs. It may include a range of treatment options to fit exactly what you’re facing and why. Typically, treatment occurs in three stages, beginning with detox.
Detox: Most people with active addiction need to start here. During your drug and alcohol detox, your doctors and therapists will work to stabilize your mental health as well as help your body to safely rid itself of the drugs. You’ll gain mental clarity and physical stability.
Evaluation and Diagnosis: You’ll then go through a process of being evaluated to determine the diagnosis. Your doctors may change or adjust your diagnosis as they continue to work with you, but their goal is to provide an effective treatment plan every step of the way.
Treatment: Treatment for co-occurring disorders often starts with individual counseling. You’ll also have opportunities to engage in group therapy. A range of evidence-based treatments are used to help you to gain control over your thought processes and your addiction. Mental health treatment may involve learning about your condition and working on treating it.
Many people will benefit from ongoing support when they have co-occurring disorders. This may mean you’ll meet with your therapist even after treatment. Our aftercare programs are one component of building a healthy, long-term recovery for both mental illness and addiction.
If you suspect you may have an underlying mental health disorder that is fueling your addiction, and vice versa, now is the ideal time to get support. Victory Addiction Recovery Center is a full-service drug and alcohol treatment program in Lafayette, LA, and our team is eager to help you feel better and begin your journey toward health.
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