Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders are common mental health conditions that accompany substance abuse disorders. These can vary between various clinical mental illnesses and drug abuse or anxiety disorders and alcohol addiction. Mental health disorders paired with addiction can greatly influence and exacerbate each other.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

Co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis, comorbid disorders), are defined as a mental health disorder or mental illness which accompanies a substance addiction. It is important that someone suffering from substance abuse and mental health-related issues seeks medical attention in order to receive a proper diagnosis for their condition. At times, differentiating between the co-occurring issues can be difficult - substance abuse and mental health issues can pose similar symptoms. However, leaving the conditions untreated and undiagnosed can increase the likelihood for dangerous situations and poses potentially life-threatening effects on the individual. This can also be the case if one diagnosis is made and the underlying substance abuse disorder or mental illness is left undiagnosed and untreated. It is pertinent to the client's well-being that both the substance abuse disorder and the mental health disorder are diagnosed congruently and healed through integrated treatment.

What is the Difference Between a Dual Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorder?

There is no difference between dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders. A dual diagnosis is a terminology used to describe the medical assessment of the presence of co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Yet, there can potentially be confusion as a co-occuring disorder diagnosis may include certain health issues that are unrelated to mental illness. At times, health-related issues such as cancer, HIV, or other diseases may be associated with the term co-occurring disorder. However, it is more common for dual-diagnoses and co-occurring disorders to be used interchangeably when dealing with mental illness and substance abuse.

Types of Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not unusual for underlying mental health disorders to lead to substance use. Most people pursue substance use as a way to cope with various emotional and mental stresses such as: depression, shame, pain, trauma, anxiety, and guilt. Some of the most commonly diagnosed co-occurring disorders include:

Depression & Heroin Addiction

Depression is the most common mental illness worldwide. Depression affects millions of individuals and is one of the leading causes for substance abuse to accompany mental health issues. Depression tends to render the individual incapable of finding joy in life, hinders personal growth and expression, and can lead to physically harmful manifestations such as substance use and self-harm. Because depression takes an emotional toll on the individual, they may seek to find fulfillment in the effects of heroin or other drugs. However, substance use tends to leave unsatisfactory after-effects such as feelings of guilt and shame. These can increase the individual's need and desire for drugs and alcohol in order to mask their painful feelings. In this case, a cycle of heightened dependence on substance use leading to increased depressive episodes takes place.

Anxiety Disorders & Cocaine Use

Anxiety disorders are other common forms of mental illnesses that can play a part in co-occurring disorders. Because anxiety and intense battles with fear take an emotional and physical toll on an individual's body, they may be tempted to turn to substance use as a way to cope with their everyday life. Cocaine abuse can help suppress the feelings of anxiousness, fear, impending doom, and unease by creating a sense of empowerment or fearlessness. However, although seeming to temporarily aid in the suppression of painful experiences and difficult symptoms, the person's cocaine addiction can increase the effects of their anxiety disorder.

Bipolar Disorder & Substance Abuse

Bipolar disorder (or manic depression disorder) occurs as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. When suffering from BPAD, the person may experience radical mood shifts from severe depression to euphoria or mania. In order to control the intense shifts from one mode of experience to the other, many people struggling with bipolar disorder may turn to substance use. Yet, due to the already present imbalance, the surge of chemicals in the brain can actually increase the irregular function of the brain, resulting in dangerous levels of brain activity. Many dual-diagnosis disorders are found to involve bipolar disorder. Many studies have shown that people suffering from bipolar disorder will end up developing a substance use disorder.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) & Adderall Abuse

ADHD is characterized as hyperactivity within the brain that is uncontrollable without therapy or medication-assistance. It is common for those who suffer from ADHD to develop a tendency to abuse their Adderall prescription, alcohol, or other substances in order to cope with their inability to concentrate or function normally. Once a person becomes accustomed to coping in this way, it can easily turn into a substance use disorder.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) & Opioid Abuse

PTSD is a mental illness that includes both intense bouts of stress due to previous trauma coupled with anxiety or depression. PTSD can develop as a result of the person's experience with severely traumatic or life-threatening experiences. In some cases, to combat the intense reliving of trauma and psychoactive effects, a person may turn to opioids to find peace. Due to the debilitating effects of PTSD, opioid abuse may continue and grow worse, complicating the person's ability to cope despite the use of opioids.

Schizophrenia & Marijuana Use

Schizophrenia is a dissociative mental health disorder characterized by visual or auditory hallucinations. This illness can significantly impact the person's perception of reality, the way they think, and how they act. Studies have shown that it is common for those who suffer from schizophrenia to abuse marijuana. However, it is still undetermined as to why this is considering marijuana has psychoactive effects. Those suffering from this co-occurring disorder are at a higher risk of severe psychosis and potentially life-threatening effects on their well-being.

How Common are Co-Occurring Disorders?

It is common for mental illness and substance abuse to coincide. When a mental illness is present, it is more common for the suffering individual to develop a substance use disorder as a method for self-treatment - especially if the mental illness goes untreated for an extended period of time. Consequently, drug addiction or substance abuse can lead to a more drastic increase in the severity and frequency of mental health disorder.

What Causes Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders may develop for many reasons. They develop as a result of genetics,  biology, personality, traumatic experiences, abuse, and/or environmental reasons. These can include childhood traumas or daily environmental vulnerabilities or triggers that lead to heightened experiences of anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders. It is also common for painful experiences such as financial struggles, relationship issues, and other stressful situations to lead to substance abuse. These issues coinciding can place someone at a greater risk of developing a co-occurring disorder. Other potential risk factors can include:

  • Prescriptions for mental illnesses (abuse as a form of coping)
  • Lack of community or family support
  • Inability to develop healthy coping skills
  • Stress

Treating Common Co-Occurring Disorders

It is vital to the safety and health of the individual that if mental health and substance abuse disorders are present that they enroll in a form of integrated treatment. Integrated treatment seeks to aid in healing the person from their mental illness while also treating the substance addiction at hand. In many cases, physical addiction can become more noticeable and easier to diagnose while the mental illness goes undiagnosed and untreated. However, at Transformations Treatment Center, we desire to provide professional care for both substance abuse and underlying mental health issues.

Our integrated programs for co-occurring disorders can help aid in:

  • Helping clients understand more about their dual-diagnosis
  • Help clients understand the negative effects of their substance dependence
  • Build a sense of community and family support in their recovery
  • Working with clients in order to pursue attainable goals
  • Preparing our clients for life after treatment: life-skills training, job search, etc.
  • Providing unique individual and group therapy options and counseling for co-occurring disorders

Transformations Treatment Center desires to offer compassionate and professional treatment options for co-occurring disorders. Our professional staff is prepared and ready to welcome you and answer any questions you may have. regarding our treatment options.

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