Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use disorder (SUD) often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health issues, and getting treatment for both can seem like a daunting task. Although treatment for co-occurring disorders is complex, it’s not impossible. Help is available through Athens Area Commencement Center.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are mental health disorders that occur simultaneously with one another. A common example of co-occurring disorders is the simultaneous presence of anxiety and depression in one person. Nearly 50% of people in the US diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. 

Another extremely common circumstance is the occurrence of SUD along with a mental health disorder. For example, mood disorders like depression and SUD occur together frequently. An estimated 32% of people in the US with a mood disorder also have SUD. The following conditions are also common co-occurring disorders in people with SUD:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorders
  • Emotional dysregulation

Causes and Effects

So why are co-occurring disorders so common? It’s a result of the complex connection between addiction and mental health. 

Usually, one disorder develops before the other. For example, you may have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder that is affecting your day-to-day life. Your work, your social life, and your self-image are being affected by your symptoms. The mental toll of watching your life crumble around you and not knowing how to fix it can be extreme. Many people turn to substance use to cope with the stress of a mental health disorder like this. Drinking or using drugs can help you disassociate, manage feelings of fear and sadness, or take back a sense of control in your life. While substance use can provide temporary relief, the problem will always return, and you may end up stuck with a whole new issue: addiction. 

On the other hand, substance misuse can trigger mental health disorders that weren’t present before. Disorders with a strong genetic component, such as schizophrenia, may lie in a sort of dormant state in the brain for years, with no apparent symptoms. However, the chemical changes in the brain caused by heavy drug and alcohol use can stimulate the disorder and allow it to become active. Similarly, depression and anxiety disorders can develop as a result of addiction and the damage it does to brain function. 

People with co-occurring disorders often find themselves trapped in a vicious and destructive cycle. You may find yourself using substances to cope with mental health symptoms, only for the substances to worsen those symptoms, leading to the use of more or different substances as tolerance and dependence develops. It can feel like there is no escape from the cycle of addiction, but our team at Athens Area Commencement Center is here for you. The first step is reaching out and admitting that you need help. 

Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders

At the end of the day, no one knows you better than yourself. You only have one body, so looking out for your health and well-being is vital. Here are some symptoms of co-occurring disorders to look for in yourself:

  • Craving substances when psychiatric symptoms are bad
  • Using substances to cope with mental health issues
  • Needing more substances each time to reach the desired effect
  • A sense of guilt, defensiveness, or shame surrounding substance use
  • Thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide
  • Feeling emotionally detached from others
  • Blacking out or losing consciousness frequently
  • Feeling detached from reality, time, or space
  • Not wanting to participate in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy

Sometimes, when someone is struggling with mental health issues and SUD, it can be difficult for them to admit it, even to themselves. They may be in a state of denial or don’t think they are deserving of help. In cases like this, getting a push from a loved one can drive them to pursue treatment. Here are some symptoms to look for in others:

  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Secrecy or defensiveness surrounding substance use
  • Paranoia, panic, or anxiety
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Fatigue or excessive sleeping
  • Poor hygiene
  • Bursts of energy followed by extreme crashes

Getting Treatment

Treatment for co-occurring disorders starts with a thorough assessment by mental health professionals. The admissions process at Athens Area Commencement Center emphasizes comprehensive assessments before a treatment plan is established. These assessments will help determine what issues you’re struggling with and the best course of action for your healing journey. 

After the assessment stage, a personalized treatment plan will be created to incorporate therapies that treat your co-occurring disorders. Often, multiple treatment methods will be utilized, such as a combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. This approach is known as integrated treatment. Integrated treatment has been proven more effective in clients with co-occurring disorders than other approaches. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), integrated treatment can result in:

  • Decreased hospitalization
  • Better chance of success in treatment
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased housing stability
  • Improvement of psychiatric symptoms
  • Reduced or discontinued substance abuse
  • Fewer legal issues

Because you’re addressing multiple simultaneous issues, treatment may look different for you than it does for clients with a single disorder. Evidence-based approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be effective. The composition of therapy sessions will be tailored to address the complexity of co-occurring disorders. 

Co-occurring disorders can be beat with an integrated treatment plan that’s tailored to your needs. You don’t have to be stuck in the cycle of mental health issues and addiction. To learn more, call Athens Area Commencement Center at (706) 546-7355.