Understanding Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders: What’s the Connection and How Do You Beat It?

The abuse of alcohol and drugs occurs more often in an individual with a co-occurring mental disorder. Based on the findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2014, as many as 20.2 million people had an addiction, and out of these, just fewer than 8 million also had another co-occurring mental disorder. In this article, the link between addiction and co-occurring disorders will be explored to better understand why they occur together so frequently.

The Start of Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental illness and addiction can start in two ways: either a person develops a mental disorder that may not have surfaced if it were not for substance abuse while others may attempt to treat their mental disorder symptoms with the use of alcohol and drugs. In the first scenario of mental illness and addiction, a person may not have developed the mental disorder, but were at a high risk to because of their family history. When they abuse drugs, the side effects can be the cause of the development of their hereditary mental disorder.

In most addiction and co-occurring disorders cases, the mental disorder is present before the start of substance abuse. When the person does not have adequate means of dealing with their symptoms, which are often overwhelming, then they may turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to reduce their symptoms. However, substance abuse is an ineffective, short-term solution to their problem and their risk of forming an addiction becomes very high. Furthermore, the symptoms such as depression return even stronger when uses of the substance stops, leading to more and more abuse until dependence has formed.

Research also suggests that those who are prone to mental disorders, which alter brain chemistry and point to improper function, are more prone to forming an addiction because it too is a mental disorder that alters the way your brain works.

Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

When it comes to addiction and mental health treatment, some challenges arise due to the interdependence of the addiction and mental disorder. If the addict is only treated for their substance use disorder, it is likely that they may return to substance abuse because the initial cause of their abuse – untreated mental health symptoms – is still present. It is therefore crucial that a dual diagnosis approach is taken.

The purpose of dual diagnosis is to treat both co-occurring disorder simultaneously in order to improve to success rate of the treatment. Effective treatment should always see to the other needs of the patient, and in this case it is treating mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, bi-polar and ADHD among others.

In cases where a mental disorder developed due to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, the recovering person needs the same type of care. If only their addiction was treated, then there is a high possibility that their new symptoms from the mental health disorder will lead them to self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. If only their co-occurring disorder was treated, then it is likely that the substance abuse will again cause the mental disorder’s symptoms to surface.

Through a simultaneous treatment approach in a dual diagnosis program, both disorders of the brain can be successfully managed so that the person has a real chance at a full, long-term recovery. If you want to find out more about dual diagnosis, then call Better Addiction Care at 1-800-429-7690.