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What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

Porter of beautiful redhead girl with psychotic disorders covering her face

A co-occurring disorder happens when someone has both a mental health problem and a substance abuse issue. This can mean a lot of different mental illnesses and drug combinations, like depression paired with alcohol abuse, or anxiety disorder combined with drug addiction. It’s like dealing with two major battles simultaneously, each affecting the other in various ways.

Dealing with mental health issues can be challenging. When addiction is also in the picture, things can feel even more overwhelming. This is where understanding co-occurring disorders becomes crucial.

Lumina Recovery wishes to share insight into what co-occurring disorders are and make information accessible for anyone who might be facing these challenges themselves or for those concerned about a loved one.

Why Dual Diagnosis Matters

Recognizing and understanding co-occurring disorders helps in creating a more effective treatment plan, known as dual diagnosis care. When only one condition is treated, and the other is left unaddressed, it leaves out an important piece of recovery.

For example, treating someone’s addiction without addressing their underlying depression can lead to a cycle of recovery and relapse because the root cause of their substance use isn’t being dealt with.

Understanding co-occurring disorders can help break the stigma associated with both mental health issues and addiction. It highlights the complex nature of these conditions. It emphasizes that they are not a result of moral failure or lack of willpower, but are intricate health issues that require comprehensive treatment and compassionate understanding.

Moreover, this awareness can improve the quality of life for those affected. By getting appropriate care that addresses both conditions simultaneously, individuals have a better chance of managing their symptoms, reducing their reliance on substances, and ultimately leading a more stable and fulfilling life.

The Risk of Self-Medicating

Understanding self-medicating is crucial in the context of dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders. Self-medicating refers to the practice of using substances like alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication without a doctor’s supervision to manage symptoms of mental health issues.

Individuals might turn to self-medication as a way to cope with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), not realizing that this can lead to a cycle of dependence and addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse highlights the risk this poses, as self-medicating can mask the symptoms of mental health disorders, making them more challenging to diagnose and treat effectively.1

Moreover, substances that provide temporary relief can exacerbate the underlying mental health condition over time, leading to a worsening of symptoms.

In cases of co-occurring disorders, understanding the role of self-medicating is vital for developing effective treatment plans that address both the substance use disorder and the mental health condition, ensuring a holistic approach to recovery.

Signs to Watch For

Identifying co-occurring disorders can be challenging, especially since symptoms of one condition can overlap or mask symptoms of the other. Here are more detailed signs to watch for that may indicate the presence of co-occurring disorders:

Increased Tolerance and Substance Dependence. Notice if there is an increased tolerance to substances or a physical dependence that develops, where more of the substance is needed to achieve the same effect, or withdrawal symptoms appear if the substance is not used.

Neglecting Responsibilities. If there’s a noticeable decline in performance at work, school, or in-home responsibilities because of substance use or mental health issues, it could be a sign of a co-occurring disorder.

Socially Withdrawn. Withdrawing from social activities, family, and friends, especially if this behavior is a change from previous patterns, can indicate underlying issues with mental health and substance use.

Experiencing Mood Swings. Experiencing severe mood swings that seem unrelated to the usual ups and downs of life can be a sign. These might be exacerbated by substance use or might drive an increase in usage.

Changes in Behavior. Unexplained changes in behavior, such as increased secrecy, risky behavior, or using substances under dangerous conditions, can be indicative of deeper issues.

Seeking Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

young African-American man smiling gratefully to psychologist while in support group circle

When it comes to seeking help for co-occurring disorders, knowing where to turn is vital. Combining professional help with treatment approaches that address both the addiction and the mental health condition simultaneously offers the best chance for recovery.

The first step in seeking help is to undergo a comprehensive assessment by a healthcare provider or a mental health professional who has experience with co-occurring disorders. This assessment will help to identify the specific disorders and guide the development of a personalized treatment plan.

Look for treatment programs that offer integrated care, which means they are equipped to treat both the mental health issue and the substance use disorder at the same time. This approach is critical because treating one condition while neglecting the other can lead to incomplete recovery and a high likelihood of relapse.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Approaches

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage symptoms of mental health disorders, such as antidepressants for depression or mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder. Medication can also be used as part of addiction treatment to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Therapy is an invaluable part of treatment for co-occurring disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective as it helps individuals understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and provides strategies to manage symptoms and prevent relapse. Other therapeutic approaches, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and motivational interviewing, can also be beneficial.

Incorporating holistic therapies, such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, can support overall well-being and stress management. Sober living, employment, and other social services can also be part of a comprehensive treatment plan, addressing factors that may contribute to or exacerbate co-occurring disorders.

Get Support for Co-Occurring Disorders With Lumina Recovery

Co-occurring disorders are complex but treatable. Understanding the link between mental health issues and addiction is the first step towards healing.

If you or a loved one is struggling, remember, you’re not alone, and help is available. At Lumina Recovery, we provide dual diagnosis treatment for many different mental health issues as well as alcohol and drug addiction treatment.

Take the first step in seeking support by contacting our team of professionals today.



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