What Does it Mean to Have a Co-occurring Disorder?

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Co-occurring disorders, also called a dual diagnosis, is when a mental illness and substance use disorder occur simultaneously. These disorders are quite common, impacting nearly 8 million adults in the United States in 2014. What’s more, reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse. And it works the other way, too: Thirty-seven percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. People struggling with a mental health condition mistakenly try to self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs – yet this only worsens symptoms.

Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders
Co-occurring disorders can include a wide range of mental illnesses, including:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Panic disorders
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia & other personality disorders

Diagnosing co-occurring disorders isn’t easy. This is because symptoms can vary depending upon your addiction and mental illness; the signs of alcohol use disorder and PTSD, for instance, will be different than anxiety and cocaine abuse. In general, however, people with a dual diagnosis will experience the following:

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Extreme mood swings or an inability to control your emotions
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Using substances in high-risk situations
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • “Needing” a drug to function
  • Increased tolerance and/or “needing” a drug to function
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when trying to stop or cut back on drug of choice
  • An inability to maintain employment
  • An inability to maintain functional relationships
  • Legal problems
  • Financial issues

Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Treatment for co-occurring disorders involves an integrated approach – most experts no longer believe in the idea that you can’t treat depression, for example, if the person is abusing alcohol. Instead, the best approach will consider how each condition affects one another. Although treatment types vary from person to person, co-occurring disorders often require detox, inpatient and outpatient treatment, support groups, psychotherapy and/or medication.

At NorthStar Transitions, we evaluate clients for co-occurring disorders that may contribute to dependency. Our staff, which includes a board-certified addiction psychiatrist, will help manage medication and provide necessary therapy. To learn more about our dual diagnosis treatment program, call today: 303-625-6335.