Co-occurring disorder is a term used to refer to a combination of disorders. Any combination of substance use disorders and mental health disorders falls under this category and is often referred to as dual-diagnosis. It is not always clear which disorder came first, but their coexistence tends to exacerbate symptoms of both, making it impossible to effectively treat one without the other.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Mental health and substance abuse disorders can be caused by a number of factors. In some cases, a person may begin using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate for symptoms of a mental health disorder. In other instances, a mental health disorder may begin to develop as a result of substance abuse. Regardless of which condition predates the other, they often become intricately intertwined and treating them may require more time due to additional challenges.

There is a combination of factors that can play into the development of co-occurring disorders. These include:

  1. Biology: Family history, prenatal development, and chemical makeup can be at the root of co-occurring disorders. An accident or injury can also cause chemical changes that may affect the way the brain works. Not all biological factors are present from birth.
  2. Genetics: A family history of addiction can play a significant role in the likelihood of someone else developing a substance use disorder. Additionally, studies show that mental health disorders have a genetic component to them.
  3. Trauma: Trauma is often a catalyst for the development of both substance abuse and mental health disorders. Sexual abuse, experiencing an accident, physical abuse, near-death experiences, or being exposed to war can increase the likelihood of a mental health disorder developing. Additionally, it can also make a person more prone to using drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medication.
  4. Life experience: Significant life experiences can have a profound impact on someone’s health. Something such as developing a chronic illness can influence the development of mental health issues and substance abuse.
  5. Environment: Early exposure and peer pressure can also play a significant role in the development of addiction. The normalization of substance abuse from an early age can influence the development of addiction later in life.

Integrating Care for Co-occurring Disorders

For those with co-occurring disorders, integrated care is the most effective form of treatment. Addressing mental health and addiction as two separate entities inevitably leads to relapse. Integrated care improves recovery outcomes and improves rates of long-term sobriety among those who have completed treatment. There are numerous reasons why integrated care is more effective, including:

  • Integrated treatment is designed with symptoms of mental health conditions in mind; therefore, the recovery plan is structured in a way that it can overcome hurdles associated with mental health with simultaneously treating addiction.
  • Treatment that utilizes medication as part of recovery tends to be more effective because it is intended to treat both mental health needs and substance abuse issues simultaneously. Any hesitation about prescribed medications worsening symptoms tends to be minimized because of the effectiveness of using medication to treat mental health conditions.
  • Group therapy that specializes in co-occurring disorders can help strengthen the sense of community among those who struggle with multiple conditions. It removes feelings of isolation and loneliness that can exacerbate symptoms of both illnesses while integrating social support into the recovery process.
  • Simultaneous treatment of mental health and addiction ensures that triggers and other unique influences that derail sobriety can be addressed effectively. Symptoms of mental health conditions can often trigger substance use, and providing treatment for both can minimize this risk.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

Integrated care comes to life in the dual-diagnosis treatment model. Dual-diagnosis is specifically designed to address the needs of those with co-occurring disorders. Combining treatment for substance abuse and mental health ensures that therapy is individualized and structured to meet the needs of the client. A comprehensive treatment plan helps ensure that symptoms of mental health conditions do not become hurdles in recovery from addiction. Instead, dual-diagnosis equips clients with the tools to improve coping skills and develop alternative responses to triggers that would have otherwise led to substance use.

Regardless of what mental health condition a person struggles with, there are benefits to be found through integrated care. In addition to providing therapy and treatment for existing conditions, part of the recovery process is designed to raise awareness about how the two conditions interact with one another. This ensures that clients are equipped with the tools to recognize triggers or cues that may threaten sobriety and actively follow alternative responses learned in treatment.

Dual-diagnosis treatment also helps clients connect with others who share similar experiences to build a strong sober community. This provides a safe place to discuss psychiatric needs, coping mechanisms, medications, or other substance-related issues with people who can readily relate to your experiences. Although group members may have similar experiences to others in recovery, their experiences with co-occurring disorders will be unique, and individualized treatment ensures those differences in needs are addressed as well.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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