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    What Are Co-Occurring Disorders and How Does Dual Diagnosis Treatment Work?

    Mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction affect people of all walks of life. Struggling with either mental illness or substance abuse alone is difficult enough, but a staggering number of individuals who seek treatment suffer from both mental illness and addiction. If mental illness comes first, someone may begin self-medicating in an attempt to cope with their symptoms only to develop an addiction. If addiction comes first, the negative side effects of long-term substance abuse can spark the development of a mental health condition.

    Regardless of which condition came first, people who struggle with both addiction and mental illness are said to have co-occurring disorders. Since both conditions occur at the same time and may have overlapping symptoms, the best way to treat co-occurring conditions is with dual diagnosis treatment.

    What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

    A co-occurring disorder is a term used to describe an instance where an individual has two or more mental health conditions. These disorders may begin at the same time with overlapping symptoms or appear one after another. The most common types of co-occurring disorders are those involving drug and/or alcohol abuse and mental health.[1]

    Some examples of co-occurring disorders are:

    • Anxiety disorders and addiction (social anxiety, generalized anxiety, OCD, etc.)
    • Mood disorders and addiction (depression, bipolar disorder)
    • Personality disorders and addiction (borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, etc.)
    • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and addiction
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction

    Although the exact reason why co-existing conditions develop is unknown, however, researchers have been studying these conditions for decades and have identified three different areas that may influence the development of these conditions.

    1. Self-medicating a mental health condition – people with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or PTSD may attempt to cope with their symptoms by using drugs or alcohol, a tactic called “self-medication”. Repeated use of a substance to cope can easily lead to addiction.
    2. Suffering drug or alcohol-induced changes in the brain – long-term substance abuse can produce changes in the structure and function of the brain in areas responsible for mood, impulse control, and emotional well-being. As a result, long-term substance abuse can cause mental illness.
    3. Experiencing dual risk factors – both substance use disorder and many mental health conditions have common risk factors, such as environmental factors, family history, and childhood experiences. These risk factors can increase the likelihood of a co-occurring disorder.

    How Common are Co-Occurring Disorders?

    Substance use disorders and mental health conditions exist simultaneously at astonishing rates. In 2018, studies found that 3.7% of adults, or 9.2 million people, had a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness. While 3.7% may seem like a small number, 19.3% of adults with a mental illness in 2018 also experienced a substance use disorder. Furthermore, 1 out of every 8 emergency room visits by adults is attributed to both mental illness and substance use disorders.[2]

    Since only 10% of people struggling with addiction seek the help that they need, it’s difficult to know how accurate these numbers are. Some people believe that the relationship between substance abuse and mental health is even closer. In fact, experts estimate that nearly 50% of people who seek treatment for substance abuse also have a mental health condition.[3]

    How Does Dual Diagnosis Treatment Work?

    The idea approach for treating someone with substance use disorder and mental illness is referred to as dual diagnosis treatment. This is an integrated treatment method that addresses both substance abuse and mental health simultaneously. Treatment usually consists of a delicate combination of medication management and behavioral therapy.

    First, patients will need to go to medical detox. Detox allows the person to withdraw from drugs or alcohol in a safe and supportive environment. After all of the substances leave the system, the clinical team can conduct an in-depth evaluation to get an idea of the patient’s mental health, emotional well-being, and treatment needs.

    Dual diagnosis treatment programs should provide individualized treatment plans for people struggling with co-occurring disorders. Medications can be used to manage certain symptoms, such as cravings, depression, anxiety, or mood swings, while therapy teaches patients how to manage their symptoms without using drugs or alcohol.

    Inpatient or residential programs are ideal for patients who require comprehensive care. Their care should also continue after treatment in the form of ongoing counseling, support groups, or outpatient programs.

    Is Dual Diagnosis Treatment Effective?

    The goal of dual diagnosis treatment is to help people learn how to live healthier, more functional lives while managing their mental health symptoms. This is best accomplished through intensive counseling, medications, and support groups. Integrated techniques used in dual diagnosis programs are considered the most effective because they offer a highly individualized approach.

    Studies have shown that integrated treatment programs are linked to many positive outcomes, such as increased treatment retention, fewer relapses, fewer hospital visits, and increased ability to maintain employment and report life satisfaction.[4]

    Find a Dual Diagnosis Addiction Treatment Program Near You

    Dealing with co-occurring addiction and mental health conditions is never easy, but a life of drug and alcohol abuse is never the answer. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, pick up the phone and call us today. We can help you find a treatment program that meets your needs.



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