A person has co-occurring disorders when they are dealing with a substance abuse disorder and mental health disorder simultaneously. Having co-occurring disorders can sometimes be referred to as a dual diagnosis.
Dealing with co-occurring disorders can be challenging for both the patient and their medical professionals. When someone is suffering from 2 disorders occurring simultaneously both sets of side effects and withdrawal symptoms need to be treated separately.
Medical professionals will prescribe treatment methods, therapy sessions, and other activities to combat the challenges related to each disorder. Therefore, to understand how they work together it’s important to look at them each individually first.
Defining A Substance Disorder
A substance abuse disorder is defined as drug or alcohol abuse, or drug or alcohol dependence. What determines abuse or dependence?
Use of a substance is considered abuse when it starts to interfere with an individual’s everyday life. This means a person is using a substance to the point where it affects how they function at work, school, and in personal relationships. It can also be defined as abuse if use of the substance starts to make a pre-existing medical condition worse.
Dependence is considered more severe than abuse. In the case of substance dependence, an individual can’t control their urge to use the substance. Depending upon the substance, a physical addiction may be present as well. This physical dependence is defined by withdrawal symptoms and an increased tolerance for the substance. When an individual has an increased tolerance, they need to take more of the substance to achieve their desired high. Withdrawal symptoms are intense mental and physical side effects that can occur when a person stops using the substance.
Defining A Mental Disorder
A mental health disorder is a change in emotion, mood, or brain chemistry. The most common mental disorders associated with substance abuse are anxiety and mood disorders. If someone suffers from a severe mental health disorder, it may even be likely that they have multiple co-occurring substance abuse disorders.
Mental Illnesses are defined as severe based on how chronic the effects are, and how long they’ve been persisting. An example of a severe mental illness would be schizophrenia. This condition can have debilitating, even dangerous, effects on a person and can last for a very long period of time.
Some examples of the most common mental health disorders associated with substance abuse are:
- major depressive disorder
- bipolar disorder
- social anxiety
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- generalized anxiety disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
These disorders fall under the category of mood or anxiety disorders.
Any substance or mental health disorder can be bad enough on its own. However, together, they can be even more powerful and challenging.
Since each condition is really separate, sometimes diagnosing co-occurring disorders can be difficult. This is because symptoms of substance abuse can be confused as symptoms of the mental health disorder. Likewise, symptoms of a mental illness can be confused as symptoms of substance abuse.
People suffering from a mental health disorder will often start to use a substance to cope with their mental health issues. As such, these individuals don’t normally treat their substance abuse. They don’t think it’s relative to their other problems.
Although it is difficult to diagnose co-occurring disorders, some patterns do emerge.
A person’s mental health may continue to deteriorate even though they are receiving treatment. When people suffering from a mental health disorder turn to other substances to feel better, it starts to make things worse. Turning to substance abuse to feel better robs patients from developing effective coping mechanisms. The substances they use will also begin to interact negatively with prescriptions given to them by their medical professional.
Another pattern in people with co-occurring disorders is substance abuse problems that don’t respond to treatment. A person who has co-occurring disorders may try to stop using drugs or alcohol, but have trouble doing so. The underlying symptoms of their mental health condition may make it difficult to stop using.
It’s important that people in this situation get the proper treatment. Certain treatment centers may not be equipped to handle both disorders simultaneously. If they try to attend support groups, the group may request its members to stop using drugs altogether. This can be a problem because the rule may include medications prescribed to deal with mental health issues. People suffering from co-occurring disorders have a hard time treating their mental illness without treating their substance abuse problem.
In previous decades, experts thought treating mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders separately was the best option. Over time, however, it’s been discovered that these disorders need to be treated together. The disorders can work in conjunction, mask each other’s symptoms, and need to be treated together. Treating one of the disorders does not necessarily mean that the other will improve.
Medical professionals have recently discovered that providing treatment for each disorder separately is not effective either. The most effective solution discovered has been both disorders being treated at the same facility by the same medical staff. Treating co-occurring disorders in this way is called integrated treatment.
Integrated treatment has been clinically-proven to be the most effective method of treating co-occurring disorders through several randomized control groups. Integrated treatment involves shared decision-making regarding a patient’s care. The whole medical team comes together to decide what is the best recovery program for the patient.
This shared decision-making ensures that everyone, including the patient, are all on the same page as far as the goals and treatment plan. This is possible because of the integration of services provided by integrated treatment. All treatment methods, physical and psychological, are provided by the same team. This makes a patient’s treatment streamlined and more effective.
This type of treatment also involves a comprehensive approach. All aspects of a patient’s life are managed at the same facility to increase the effectiveness of the treatment. Patients undergoing integrated treatment will be at the same facility for housing, illness management, pharmacological treatment, social skills training, family psychoeducation, supported employment, and case management.
Co-occurring disorders can be challenging for the patient, the patient’s family, and even medical staff. New approaches like integrated treatment are making treatment of dual diagnosis more effective and more successful.
If you’d like more information on this, or any other substance abuse topics, contact Just Believe Detox Center.