It is rare for someone to develop an addiction without any other issues that are influencing their substance abuse. Mental health problems often go hand in hand with addiction and the two can further complicate each other. Co-occurring disorders are usually difficult issues that require special treatment and care for recovery.
When someone has both a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder or in some cases as a dual diagnosis. Any combination of mental health problems and addiction can qualify as a being co-occurring disorder no matter what type of drug or level of substance abuse is involved. They can come in many combinations such as alcohol and depression, cocaine addiction and anxiety, or PTSD and opioid abuse.
No matter what type of co-occurring disorder a person has they should be able to find help from a specialized program that caters to their issues. Dual diagnosis treatment programs are careful to treat every aspect of a person’s addiction and mental illness so that they can recover from both. Addressing both issues simultaneously is crucial for a patient’s success in recovery and preventing relapse.
The Development of a Co-Occurring Disorder
When someone has a co-occurring disorder, one of the issues often predates the other and contributes to the development of both. It can be very common for someone with a mental illness to look for an escape from their symptoms and end up self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. While they may experience some temporary relief from their drug use, ultimately it will cause their symptoms to worsen over time.
Although it may be less common, there are some cases where severe drug use over an extended period of time may lead to the development of symptoms of mental illness. Intense withdrawal symptoms, disconnection from reality and dramatically shifting moods caused by drug use can cause mental health problems. They may continue to use drugs to combat these problems and end up in an endless cycle between the two issues.
People with co-occurring disorders often have genetic or environmental factors that lead to them developing both problems. They may have a family with a history of mental illness, substance abuse or both which puts them at a high risk. Genetic vulnerability is something that unfortunately influences many people to become addicted to drugs because they react to substance abuse more than others.
Those that grow up in an environment where people in their family abuse drugs or alcohol may also be influenced to engage in substance abuse. Children that experience trauma early on in the form of physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect or death of a loved one may be be more likely to develop either an addiction or a mental illness or both. A person’s genetic makeup as well as their upbringing can both be integral factors in the emergence of their co-occurring disorder.
Understanding Addiction and Mental Illness
When someone has an addiction they are physically and psychologically dependent on a drug to function normally day to day. A person with an addiction would experience intense withdrawal symptoms and feel physically sick or depressed if they attempted to be abstinent from their drug use even for a few days. Addiction also means that an individual has a high tolerance for drug, meaning that they have had to take more and more of it over time in order to feel the same effects that they did initially.
Physical dependence is related to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms but psychological dependence involves the experience of cravings and obsessing over getting high. Someone with a psychological dependence will spend most of their time thinking about and planning when they will do drugs. They also spend a lot of thought and effort finding ways to obtain more drugs and it will take up most of their mental energy.
Someone with a co-occurring disorder may also be motivated to use drugs whenever they are experiencing symptoms of their mental illness such as feeling depressed, anxious or paranoid. Alcohol or drug use can make them feel better temporarily so they become even more dependent on their substance abuse to function. As their symptoms grow worse, their level of addiction is likely to worsen as well.
Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Someone with a co-occurring disorder should avoid going to a general rehab center that does not offer treatment specifically for their problems. A treatment center that only focuses on addiction will not be effective because their psychological symptoms will most likely influence them to relapse. Similarly, a program that only addresses mental illness will not provide them the support they need to stop their substance abuse which will only perpetuate their psychological issues.
Treatment for a co-occurring disorder means providing help and support for both issues simultaneously along with different recovery options that improve all aspects of the patient’s health. Holistic dual diagnosis treatment will give them an opportunity to work on their mental health problems while also healing physically and spiritually. Treating the patient as a whole means making sure that they are healthy in every respect.
People who struggle with mental illness and addiction may need help getting their life back on track in multiple ways. They might have trouble with their relationships with others because of things they have done in the past, inability to resolve conflict or their tendency to be irresponsible as a result of their addiction. It is also likely that struggle at work or in their career because of the volatile emotions that they experience day to day.
In treatment, someone with a co-occurring disorder can work on all of their issues so that they eventually are able to lead a more stable and satisfying life. Mental illness can make it very difficult to recover from an addiction and vice versa. Dual diagnosis treatment is a crucial step in getting healthy and reducing symptoms of both issues for overall well-being.
If you or someone you know as a co-occurring disorder, contact a dual diagnosis treatment center as soon as possible.