When it comes to health, we often think only about the physical aspects. But our physical health is often dependent on our mental health, as how we feel influences how we experience and respond to the world. These truths remain present in all forms of medical treatment, including addiction and substance use disorder treatment.
In substance use treatment it is easy to narrowly focus on improving a person’s physical health through the physical removal of substances. However, this single-minded approach neglects to address the root cause of addiction, which originates as a mental health condition, not as a physical one.
Addiction: a Symptom of a Larger Problem
Co-occurring disorder treatment programs seek to address this oversight by treating the physical effects of addiction, and the mental health issues which perpetuated the addiction, concurrently. Individuals with substance use disorders very rarely, if ever, present with exclusively one condition. Their addictions have likely been shaped as part of a larger response to unmet mental health needs, which this article seeks to explore.1
It's important to note that these disorders can occur simultaneously or separately.
For example, someone may suffer from depression and turn to alcohol to cope. Or, someone may develop an addiction to drugs which leads to anxiety and paranoia. Co-occurring disorders are often referred to as dual diagnoses.
How Common Are Co-Occurring Disorders?
Co-occurring disorders are a relatively standard phenomenon. It's estimated that about half of those with a mental illness will also develop a substance abuse disorder.
It's also worth noting that co-occurring disorders often go hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions. There are many mental health symptoms which are temporarily alleviated through the use of substances, such as central nervous system depressants which may reduce feelings of anxiety.
However, issues surrounding the negative health impacts, adverse side effects, and chemical dependencies arise as a result of prolonged and sustained substance use, with overdose and injury risk increasing the longer substance use is continued.
How to Know You Have Co-Occurring Disorders
If you're wondering whether or not you have co-occurring disorders, there are some signs and symptoms to look out for. These include:
Turning to drugs or alcohol to deal with stress
Needing to use drugs or alcohol to manage life responsibilities
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed when you don't use drugs or alcohol
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings if you do not use
Needs to use more of these substances to feel normal, simply
Using drugs or alcohol as a way to stop memories, worries, or emotional pain
Cause for Concern
This list of potential signs is non-exhaustive and not a replacement for a professional diagnosis. However, it can be useful in determining your personal level of concern as to whether you may have a co-occurring disorder in addition to a substance use addiction.
If someone you know has a history of substance use, it may be also likely that they too are experiencing a co-occurring disorder. A silver-lining in treating co-occurring disorders is that it creates the potential for substance use disorder improvement as a result of addressing an underlying mental illness contributing to the substance use disorder.
Causes of Co-Occurring Disorders
There is no one specific cause of co-occurring disorders. Instead, there are a variety of different factors that can contribute to substance use and likelihood of mental illness. These include:
Studies have shown that people who have relatives with mental illness or substance abuse problems are more likely to develop these disorders themselves. This is likely due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
For example, if someone grows up in a household with mental illness or drug abuse, they may be more likely to develop these disorders themselves. In addition to this environmental component, genetics may also be at play, though scientists have not been able to pinpoint a specific cause.
Environmental factors can also play a role in the development of co-occurring disorders. This includes things like peer pressure, trauma, and stress.
If someone experiences a traumatic event, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Or, if someone is around people who use drugs or alcohol, they may be more likely to start using these substances themselves.
Certain developmental factors can also contribute to the development of co-occurring disorders. This includes things like ADHD, conduct disorder, and anxiety disorders.
Someone with ADHD may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Or, someone with conduct disorder may develop an addiction to cope with their impulsivity.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders
There are various mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders that can co-occur. Some of the most common include:
The reasons as to why these disorders so often co-occur with substance use disorders is not known for certain, though there are many plausible explanations which can be combined to make sense of the majority cases. Those who are prone to anxiety, may be more sensitive to the chemical effects of substances, and benefit more greatly from their use, due to higher baselines of tension, which many substances are effective at temporarily alleviating.
For those who experience disorders such as schizophrenia or PTSD, drug use may serve as a way to temporarily diminish the intrusivity of their symptoms, particularly symptoms relating to psychosis, flashbacks, and auditory hallucinations. A common contributor to substance use relapse is insufficient support and treatment of unrelated mental health issues, which if left untreated, may leave an individual as if they are unable to function without the assistance of substances.
What is a Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment Program?
Co-occurring disorder treatment programs are often the best treatment option available. These programs provide comprehensive care that addresses both mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Therapy is a vital component in many programs, and is often grounded in one of the following frameworks:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy becoming increasingly popular as a treatment for co-occurring disorders. CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected.
Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT)
Medication therapy is a treatment for co-occurring disorders where a person is prescribed medication to treat both their mental illness and their substance abuse disorder, both reducing the need for self-medication through substance use, and supporting sobriety through the use of drugs which reduce the intoxifying effects of certain substances.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behavioral therapy, effective in treating co-occurring disorders based on the belief that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected.
Trauma Therapy Program
A trauma therapy program is a type of treatment specifically designed to address the needs of those who have experienced trauma. Trauma is often a critical factor in developing co-occurring disorders.
Other Treatment Types
There are alternative methods available for treating co-occurring disorders. These approaches will be detailed below.
Family Education and Counseling
Family education and counseling is a type of treatment specifically designed to help families deal based on the belief that families play a vital role in recovery.3
This therapy type helps families understand the nature of mental illness and addiction, and provides them with tools to support their loved ones in recovery.
The 12-Step Program is a widely used treatment for co-occurring disorders, and it has helped countless people to recover from addiction. The program is based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, and it focuses on assisting people to achieve sobriety through a series of steps.
The 12-Step Program is an effective treatment for both addiction and mental illness, and it can provide people with the tools they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives.
Experiential and Holistic Therapies
Experiential and holistic therapies are two types of alternative treatments to treat co-occurring disorders.4
These therapies are based on the belief that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are interconnected with our physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
Experiential therapies involve activities that help us to explore our thoughts and emotions. This can include art therapy, music therapy, and outdoor activities.
Holistic therapies focus on treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of their illness. It can include things like meditation, yoga, and acupuncture.
Both experiential and holistic therapies can supplement other types of treatment, such as medication therapy or counseling.
Heal Co-Occurring Disorders by Contacting Anew Treatment Center Today
Substance use disorders and the disorders they co-occur with are often characterized by increasing severity and resistance to treatment the longer they are left untreated. So If you or a loved one is struggling with co-occurring disorders, don't wait to get help. Many treatment options are available, and the sooner you seek treatment, the better.
Anew Treatment Center can help you find the right treatment program for your needs. We offer a variety of programs, including;
Our staff of compassionate addiction professionals and specialists are here to help you. Don't wait to get the support you need. Contact ANEW Treatment Center today.
Learn More About Recovery
A co-occurring disorders treatment program is a specific type of program designed to address mental illness and substance abuse disorders. These programs provide comprehensive care that addresses the root causes of these conditions.
Treatment programs for co-occurring disorders typically involve cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. These treatments effectively treat the symptoms of both mental illness and substance abuse disorders.