By Melissa Riddle Chalos
When it comes to mental health, it’s almost always a two-lane street; meaning, it’s very rare that there’s only one issue involved. For example, when anxiety and depression are fueled by a substance abuse issue. This is what is referred to as “co-occurring disorders” or dual diagnosis.
What are co-occurring disorders? These are disorders that coexist or cohabitate with each other, such as a mental health issue that contributes to a substance use disorder.
Co-occurring disorders are so common in fact, SAMHSA’s 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 9.2 million adults in the US have co-occurring disorders. Other studies indicate that 90% of those with a substance use disorder have at least one co-occurring mental health disorder, whether officially diagnosed or not.
The big question then is, Are you or someone you love at risk for developing a co-occurring disorder?
Who Is at Risk?
Mental illness may seem stigmatizing to people who don’t have the information they need to understand that mental health is essential to overall health and wellness. But the more you know, the more empowered you become to get on the road to healing. What, then, makes someone more at risk for co-occurring disorders?
Research suggests there are many common, genetic risk factors that can contribute to developing co-occurring disorders. Genetic factors, as reported by the American Psychological Association (APA), compose at least half of your susceptibility to addiction. A gene can also influence how you respond to a substance, as in whether or not using it makes you feel good.
Additionally, environmental factors, including childhood abuse, trauma or neglect, poverty, racism, bereavement, social isolation, and long-term stress, can cause genetic changes that are passed down through generations. Do any of these factors run in your family circle? If so, they may play a key role in the development of mental illnesses or a substance use disorder.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders
While the combination of co-occurring disorders vary individually, people with mental illness are more likely to experience a substance use disorder than those not impacted by mental illness.
The most common mental disorders found in those receiving substance use disorder treatment, include:
- Anxiety and mood disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Conduct disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
People being treated for mental health disorders often turn to substances like alcohol, marijuana, opioids, hallucinogens, stimulants, or other prescription drugs as a form of self-medication. You may believe these substances will alleviate symptoms beyond what prescribed medication can. But use of any of these can make symptoms worse.
And there is added risk because people with mental illness experience brain changes which may enhance the chemical reward process, predisposing you to continue using the substance. The end result, oftentimes, is addiction. It’s a destructive cycle as brain changes make the person struggling with substance use more likely to develop anxiety, depression, or other behavioral issues.
For all these reasons, it’s never been more important to understand the risks and meaning of co-occurring disorders, as well as the truth that both need and deserve healing.
Co-Occurring Disorders Require Integrated Treatment
Now that we’ve answered the question, What are co-occurring disorders? you may feel overwhelmed by even the thought of looking into treatment.
Yes, co-occurring disorders are complex and multifaceted, but that is exactly why — here at The Meadows Malibu — we specialize in complex issues. We understand that substance misuse is most likely a symptom of untreated trauma or mental health issues. And we dig deep to get to the root causes behind these distinctive illnesses.
Dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorders treatment requires a targeted approach that identifies, evaluates, and treats both the mental health condition and the substance use disorder. Why? Because quitting substance abuse on your own, without any support, can be dangerous, and rarely results in long-term success. Likewise, getting medication for depression, for example, without exploring the cause behind it, might help in the beginning, but long-term success would be unlikely.
Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders at The Meadows Malibu
At The Meadows Malibu, we offer proven behavioral treatment methods tailored to patients according to age, the specific drug misused, and other individual factors. These behavioral therapies include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — a common form of talk therapy, CBT helps to change harmful beliefs and behaviors
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) — based on CBT, this form of talk therapy is specifically designed for people who feel emotions very intensely to help reduce self-harm behaviors such as cutting, drug use, and suicide attempts, thoughts, or urges
- Motivational Interviewing (MI) — a counseling method that helps people resolve ambivalent feelings and insecurities to find the internal motivation they need to change their behavior
If you or someone you love is at risk for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, we get you. We understand that you or your loved one is more than a mental health disorder. You are more than the substance abuse issue at hand. And we are here to help you or your loved one take that first step toward healing in both body and mind. It is never too late to begin again.