Dealing with Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people struggle with mental disorders and many are trying to overcome substance abuse problems. On their own, these two conditions present frustrating challenges and a danger to the individual’s overall health, but, combined, substance abuse mingled with mental disorders can complicate treatment and send the patient’s progress on a dangerous downward spiral.

A Vicious Cycle That Requires Tailored Recovery Options

Often, people suffering from mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol, because it alleviates the emotional turmoil their illnesses produce. Substance abuse chases away anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and other symptoms of mental illness. The catch is that the substance abuse is really aggravating the mental illness from which the person suffers, leading to a greater need to self-medicate. If this cycle is allowed to grow untreated, it can ultimately lead to more self-destructive behavior, physical illness, or
worse.

The problem with treatment is that most mental health professionals are not equipped to deal specifically with addiction, while many treatment facilities for addiction can’t take on the added burden of treating mental illness. Yet exceptions do exist; those who seek out a womens recovery center can find one which specializes in treating co-occurring disorders. The same can be said for men as well.

An individual facing such a dual diagnosis needs a more integrated treatment plan, one that addresses both problems simultaneously. Treating just one condition may cause the other condition to worsen, or, at the very least, it will persist. Likewise, participating in two separate treatment plans is counterproductive, because it doesn’t address the commingling of the two conditions. To truly help the patient, an integrated treatment philosophy needs to be developed, so both conditions can be treated by the same doctors and at the same treatment facility. Most importantly, the mental illness and the substance abuse must be treated at the same time, so neither condition worsens during the process.

A Deeper Look at Co-Occurring Disorders

When an individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol and is trying to cope with a mental disorder, this is called a co-occurring disorder and it’s a problem doctors and therapists must confront head-on. On one hand, the patient is suffering from dependence on drugs or alcohol to the point that it’s affecting that individual’s day to day functioning. The patient is likely experiencing difficulty maintaining strong relationships, holding down a job, and functioning as an effective parent at home. When he or she is not under the influence of their chosen substance, the person is likely thinking about it or trying to get a new fix.

When there’s a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse, the individual is suffering from a second underlying condition. The individual may be suffering from a mood disorder, such as depression, a more severe mental illness, like Schizoaffective disorder, or the individual may be affected by anxiety disorders, similar to Post-traumatic stress disorder. When these conditions have been experienced by the patient for an extended period of time, he or she may have begun to turn to alcohol or recreational drugs as a means of self-medicating.

Co-occurring disorders present a unique set of problems for mental health professionals, beginning with the challenge of identifying this combination of disorders. Even after the mental health professional recognizes that the patient is suffering from substance abuse in addition to depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia, the task of devising a comprehensive treatment plan still remains. The patient’s problems must be addressed as a single condition, so each symptom can receive attention as a part of the whole treatment. It’s frustrating for the mental health professional and dangerous to the patient, who may not even understand the deadly cycle in which he or she is caught.

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