The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines co-occurring disorders as “the coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder.” The combination of mental health disorders and addiction is actually quite common — SAMHSA estimates that while about 17.5 million American adults suffer from a serious mental health disorder, four million of them also struggle with either a drug or alcohol addiction.
Additionally, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 45% of those struggling from addiction have a co-occurring disorder. Despite the complexities of each individual disorder, let alone having them both at the same time, treatment and recovery is possible.
Underlying Mental Illness and Addiction
Usually, mental illnesses precede addiction. Mental health issues can be diagnosed as early as childhood — as far as which mental illnesses are most prone to occur with addiction, there are little to no exceptions. Depression and anxiety may be the most common, but addiction can also go hand in hand with eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder or even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some who eventually will struggle from a co-occurring disorder will begin to use substances while unaware that they may set off an underlying mental health condition—in these cases, it seems as though both the addiction and mental health disorders begin around the same time. In other instances, some may seek to use substances as a way to “self-medicate” because of a mental health disorder they are already aware of or a traumatizing event.
Just as addiction is more likely in individuals who are more genetically or biologically predisposed or who have grown up in a traumatic environment, mental health is the same.
Mental health disorders are often predetermined by genetics —if a blood-related family member has struggled from mental illness, it is likely their children will suffer as well. Additionally, any childhood trauma such as an accident, abuse or a jarring lifestyle change can lead to mental health disorders as well as reliance on alcohol to cope. Growing up in an environment where drugs are abundant in conjunction with trauma can lead to co-occurring disorders as well.
To be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, a psychiatrist or another certified mental health professional must determine if the patient is indeed suffering from an actual mental disorder rather than just the side effects of addiction. Again, oftentimes the mental health diagnosis will precede addiction, so there is little need to re-diagnose if the individual already suffers from a mental disorder.
Once it is officially established that the individual suffers from both a mental disorder as well as addiction, they will receive a dual diagnoses and subsequently eligibility for specific dual diagnosis treatment should they be admitted to any rehabilitation program.
Integrated Addiction Treatment
Suffering from a co-occurring disorder is much more dangerous than suffering from just addiction or mental health issues alone. Therefore, it is essential to find an integrated treatment program that is capable of treating both disorders at once. Integrated treatment consists of different therapies, supervised medications and lifestyle changes that aid both addiction and mental health disorders.
Like addiction treatment centers, integrated treatment allows for individuals to go through a medical detox that allows them to withdraw from any substance left in their system. Detox is supervised so as to mitigate the harmful effects of withdrawal in a safe environment. The following treatments are also similar to normal rehabilitation centers in that individual, group and family therapy is offered in a unique treatment plan—but, the treatment plan is tailored to treat both the patient’s addiction and specific mental health disorder.
Because suffering from a co-occurring disorder is more dangerous than simply one or the other, integrated treatment centers also will help the individual form an extensive aftercare plan which slowly releases them back into daily life. Mental health care should be continued in therapy if necessary and oftentimes attendance at Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings is encouraged as well. Those close to the patient will also be taught how to recognize signs of relapse so the individual has extra support when they return safely to their daily routine.
While addiction and mental health disorders cannot necessarily be completely cured, integrated treatment is effective in teaching the individual and their family how to manage under the circumstances in a way that gives the individual control over their own body once again.
At Desert Rose Recovery we place heavy emphasis treating co-occurring disorders and understand the importance of doing so. Addiction and mental health illness so commonly go hand in hand, our addiction specialists are trained to treat even the most complex issues.