What Is Co-Occurring Disorders

Diagnosing and Treating Co-Occurring Mental Disorders

It wasn’t too long ago that addiction was considered to be completely unrelated to mental illness and that treatment was best delivered in separate facilities specializing in each condition. These days we have grown in our understanding of addiction as a disease and recognize the correlation between mental health and addiction issues. Many people with addiction disease suffer a co-occurring mental health disorder and they can now be treated for both in a dual diagnosis program at a co-occurring disorders treatment center.

Co-occurring disorder treatment or dual diagnosis, as it is also known, is now a unique field in its own right. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, around 5% of Americans are affected by serious psychiatric disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia and extreme anxiety, with one in five struggling with mental health issues at some level during their lifetime. Within that cross-section of Americans are approximately 7 million who are also dealing with alcohol and drug addiction, making this a critical issue that needs addressing urgently.

The Importance of Assessment and Evaluation

The first stage of dual diagnosis treatment deals with identifying the mental health conditions co-occurring with addiction. Assessment is undertaken in a counseling environment and it is often the very first opportunity a sufferer has had to communicate what they are going through. It is essential to get a complete picture of an individual’s medical history, family background, and socioeconomic circumstances in order to develop a better idea of the specific treatment required.

Some people have a pre-existing mental health condition that they have used alcohol or drugs in attempts to mask or reduce its distressing effects. When someone who is already being treated for a mental disorder, they can often develop a dependence on the meds prescribed to them which results in them requiring stronger doses in order to get the therapeutic effects. This can lead to someone turning to illegal or illicit drugs and consequently exposing themselves to more health risks including addiction.  Even more common is a patient with an undiagnosed mental health issue who turns to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Other patients with addiction disease may display symptoms of mental health conditions as a result of prolonged substance abuse. Prolonged marijuana use is known to cause psychosis in some people and cocaine causes acute depression. Depending on the substances used, some of the symptoms experienced may become more acute and sustained over time and can deepen into a mental health disorder.

Assessment and evaluation includes a medical examination and allows clinicians to get the data they require to establish an accurate diagnosis of the mental health condition co-occurring with addiction and its origins. Whether mental health was present before someone became addicted to alcohol or drugs or the other way around, co-occurring treatment is required.

What is Dual Diagnosis or Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment?

Dual diagnosis treatment combines methodologies from the fields of psychiatry and addiction therapy for more effective relapse prevention than if a patient receives separate care of each condition. Addiction and mental health have a complex relationship and when someone has two conditions present at the same time; they interact with each other to create unique symptoms and characteristics. It is only by treating both co-occurring mental disorders in combination and at the same time that someone can go on to enjoy a fuller and healthier life after treatment.

There are several reasons it is crucial to treat addiction disease and co-occurring mental illness at the same time including the following:

  • There are side effects of mental health conditions that are less common in addiction. Integrated treatment deals with these side effects such as apathy, isolation and a low level of motivation.
  • Overall medication effectiveness is improved when both mental illness and addiction is addressed by a pharmacological plan created specifically for co-occurring mental disorders.
  • Individual and group therapy is particularly beneficial for people with co-occurring mental health disorders and provides them with access to a strong support network when treatment has been completed.

Treatment facilities for co-occurring mental disorders have specialist clinical staff on hand who have a complete understanding of the complex dance between addiction and mental health. Being in an environment with others in similar situations is empowering for many patients with co-occurring mental health disorders and can increase their chances of successful treatment considerably.