7 Things You Should Keep in Mind About Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment

Dealing with any substance abuse disorder is difficult. Dealing with a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time can be a weight too difficult to bear. When an individual simultaneously suffers from a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, that person has a co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis

1. The Type of Mental Health Disorder That a Person Suffers from Can Affect The Likelihood of Developing a Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

Studies show that nearly 2 in 3 (66%) of patients seeking treatment for substance abuse also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. In addition, as many as 1 in 4 (25%) of people with a mental health disorder will also develop a substance use disorder at some point in their life. 

Substance use disorders are particularly prevalent with patients struggling with mood or anxiety disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, or general anxiety disorder. The presence of one of these disorders can make a patient almost twice as likely to develop a co-occurring substance use disorder. 

Such mental health disorders change how a person feels and behaves, thus changing how that person interacts with others and perceives the world. Thus, patients with mood disorders will often turn to substances, such as alcohol, as coping mechanisms for their seemingly uncontrollable behaviors.

Mood disorders stem from chemical imbalances in the brain that lead to impulsive or dysfunctional behaviors. Even prescription substances that aim to help with these imbalances can be misused, which can then cause a person to develop a dual diagnosis disorder.  

Different substances have different effects on different brains, but no matter the condition, a dual diagnosis can complicate treatment and increase the likelihood of relapse.  A good understanding of mental health and addiction is an important piece to helping you or your loved one begin treatment for a dual diagnosis

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Although a dual diagnosis can take many different forms, there are some substance use and mental health disorders that are commonly found together. Some of the most commonly occurring dual diagnoses are: 

  • Major depressive disorder and cocaine addiction
  • Alcohol addiction with depression and anxiety disorders
  • Alcoholism and drug addiction with schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder with multi-drug use

In many cases, substance use disorders are caused by an underlying mental health disorder. The opposite can be true at times too. 

Substance use disorders can also stem from the same factors that mental health disorders do. For example, family history, brain chemistry, and trauma can cause a person to develop a mental illness or start using substances to cope. Any treatment for a dual diagnosis must focus on treating both substance use and mental health disorders at the same time in order to produce lasting, effective results. 

2. A Substance Use Disorder Can be Confused for a Mental Health Disorder

Mental health disorders can lead to substance use disorders, and vice versa. In addition, some of the side effects of substance use disorders can mimic the effects of different mental health disorders. 

Much like medical symptoms that can worsen other medical symptoms, people who suffer from mental illness often experience serious symptoms when drug or alcohol addiction is involved. Mental health disorder symptoms may also overlap with the symptoms of previously occurring addiction disorders. 

Some of these overlapping symptoms can include:

  • Intrusive depressive thoughts
  • Anxiety or fear of social situations
  • Inability to function in work and personal relationships 
  • Sweating, sleep issues, and increased heart rate

The more a substance is used, the higher the likelihood of developing an addiction to that substance. If left unchecked, addictive behaviors can lead to mental health disorders or symptoms that mimic mental health disorders. Thus, it’s easy to see why a dual diagnosis can present a complicated situation. 

3. A Dual Diagnosis Can Have Serious Life-Altering Effects

Both addiction and mental health issues can create serious problems on their own. Thus, it’s easy to imagine that a dual diagnosis can seriously complicate someone’s life. Someone with a dual diagnosis will experience adverse effects emotionally, physically, and socially.  

Emotional Effects of a Dual Diagnosis

Stress is a natural byproduct of both substance use and mental health disorders. Such stress can cause a person to feel disconnected from friends, family, and the workplace. As a result, lower self-esteem ad guilt can become daily struggles. All of these issues can weigh heavily on someone and can be made worse with ongoing substance use. 

Different substances produce different emotional effects and interact with their mental health co-morbidities in different ways. The end results, however, can often be the same- anxiety, depression, and even suicidal behavior. 

Physical Effects of a Dual Diagnosis

While the health consequences of a dual diagnosis depend on the disorder and the substances misused, it is a guarantee that co-occurring disorders will have negative health effects. In addition, because a person with co-occurring disorders can experience more chronic and extreme effects, that person will often be more likely to neglect personal care or put off seeing a doctor. 

Prolonged substance use and unchecked mental disorders can lead to serious long-term effects. 

Long term health effects associated with substance abuse include:

  • Heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Risk of stroke
  • Increased rate of many types of cancer, including liver and lung
  • Risk of HIV/AIDS from unprotected sex or drug use
  • Hepatitis 
  • Lung diseases, such as emphysema and cancer

Untreated mental health disorders are associated with increased risk, including:

  • Nutritional deficiency and metabolic disorder
  • Heart disease 
  • Lung deficiency
  • Muscle and bone weakness
  • Sexual performance issues and infertility

Social Effects of a Dual Diagnosis

Social difficulties will inevitably stem from both substance use and mental health issues and this will be compounded by a dual diagnosis. Because a patient with a dual diagnosis is experiencing double the problems of a single diagnosis, that patient may find relating to society and interacting with people extremely difficult.

As the effects of substance use compound mental illness, many people will distance themselves from friends and family, who, in turn, will find it difficult to maintain close due to erratic behavior. 

A dual diagnosis will also increase the likelihood of encountering financial problems, employment disruption, and housing loss. Increasingly unpredictable behavior accompanied by health struggles can lead to disruptions in our lives that can affect even the most stable-seeming people. 

A dual diagnosis can even increase the stigma surrounding an individual as behavior and health become less predictable. This will lead to poor support systems and loss of relationships with friends and family. Effective treatment for a dual diagnosis will address the disorders themselves, as well as aid in reintegration into social structures. 

4. Dual Diagnosis Treatment is Complicated

Treatment for a dual diagnosis can begin only once a professional has made an official diagnosis. Patients dealing with both substance misuse and mental health issues tend to have symptoms that last longer, are more extreme, and are more resistant to treatment than those with individual disorders. 

There are several unique challenges posed by dual diagnosis treatment. Any dual diagnosis treatment MUST address BOTH disorders simultaneously. 

Some of the common difficulties presented by a dual diagnosis are:

  • Co-occurring  disorders tend to produce more chronic and severe symptoms
  • Side effects of a dual diagnosis can escalate much quicker
  • Patients with a dual diagnosis are often exposed to many more potential environmental triggers/risk factors
  • Medication options can be limited due to their habit-forming nature and increased risk of addiction

These challenges, and more, can affect a dual diagnosis patient’s approach and response to treatment, making recovery more complicated.

5. Dual Diagnosis Treatment Must Address Multiple Disorders

Proper co-occurring disorders treatment will integrate appropriate treatment for both co-occurring disorders. In addition, there must be counselors and treatment professionals with experience treating a dual diagnosis. Addressing only one disorder can lead to relapse or even new difficulties arising. 

Addressing both disorders together acknowledges that both disorders can have a powerful impact on the person’s life. Thus, it also shows that treating both disorders can lead to positive compounding effects. 

Effective treatment will often target overlapping symptoms of the co-occurring disorders, such as mood swings and impulse control issues. The best co-occurring disorders treatment will even add incentives for change in order to keep patients moving forward. Because drug users crave short-term highs, it’s important to have positive steps in treatment reinforced and acknowledged. 

Any edge that can be found in a dual diagnosis treatment setting can make the difference between success and relapse. This includes bringing family and friends into the journey, utilizing 12 step programs and mentorship, and exploring inpatient or outpatient treatment options. 

A dual diagnosis disorder can bring many different challenges to an individual, as well as friends and family. While a dual diagnosis will absolutely complicate treatment, with proper professional help, there is hope to overcome it. 

6. The Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Use is Complicated and Complimentary

The relationship between substance use and mental health disorders is a complicated one. It’s true that they can exacerbate each other or even trigger the development of one another. 

As patients cope with mental health struggles, they often can begin using substances. Conversely, as people struggle with substance use disorders, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can often arise. 

Mental Health Disorders Causing Substance Use Disorders

Mental health disorders can lead to substance use disorders in several key ways.

    1. Self-medication: A person struggling with a mental health diagnosis may begin using a substance in a misguided attempt to “treat” their symptoms. For example, a person with a depressive disorder may begin taking a stimulant with euphoric effects, such as heroin, to try and counteract his or her sadness. 
    2. Increased exposure to drug use:  Certain disorders can increase exposure to drugs at an early age and lead to an increased likelihood of abuse later down the line. For example, a behavioral disorder in a young adult can lead to early prescription drug exposure. 
  • The lowered barrier to drug experimentation: Some mental health disorders, such as bipolar or other mood disorders, can lead to wild mood swings and lowered inhibitions. This can lead to a higher likelihood of drug experimentation. 

Way Mental Health Diagnoses Can Lead to Substance Misuse

Conversely, a mental health diagnosis can lead to substance abuse in two important ways:

  1. Biological mechanisms: Long or short-term substance abuse will affect the chemical balance of the brain. Some substances, such as Acid (LSD) can do this in as little as one use. This change in brain chemistry can create or significantly worsen most mental health disorders. 
  2. Environmental effects: Substance use can expose a user to significantly more stress and create circumstances (such as job loss) that increase stress. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse can increase the likelihood of isolation and loss of social support structures that can help stop the development of mental health disorders. 

7. Not All Treatment Centers can Treat a Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis requires a personalized treatment plan.  Florida Center for Recovery has a treatment program aimed specifically at treating co-occurring disorders. Our program will focus on specific substance addictions as well as underlying mental health issues. 

Both substance addiction and mental health disorders affect the brain in significant ways. These disorders are complex enough on their own, but together, require specialized professional help. Personalized plans that focus on treating both conditions simultaneously have successful outcomes.

Florida Center for Recovery is a comprehensive facility. We have a staff who are prepared to help you or your loved one take the steps towards a better future. From the first step of a psychiatric evaluation to the final steps of creating a fresh start in recovery, we are ready to help you begin the process. 

Our FCR medical and clinical staff will work to find the best plan for you. Our approach at Florida Center for Recovery is one that takes your whole mental and physical health into account. From diet to time outdoors, to 12 step programs, we have a solution to every part of the treatment process. 

Please contact us at Florida Center for Recovery so that we can discuss how we can help. We offer a solid understanding of substance use and mental health disorders and are ready to prepare a treatment program for you or your loved one. Our facility in Fort Pierce, Florida offers a peaceful campus where you can begin to gain control of your life.