Co-Occurring Disorders

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Substance use disorder and mental health disorders seemingly go hand and hand. You may be dealing with a dual-diagnosis, and some mental disorders exacerbate a substance abuse disorder. It’s critical that any mental health issues are addressed by your healthcare experts in order to provide the most effective care. It’s helpful that most models of recovery treatment can be tailored to meet a person’s needs and the addition of mental health counseling can only be positive in the long run.

Many substance users will characterize their use as “self-medication” because many mental disorders are often diagnosed later in a person’s 20s. If a person has been dealing with mental health issues since their teens or adolescence, then they have probably started using substances as a way to self-medicate. While this seems feasible and easy to control at first, the mental health issue is actually left untreated and the drug use loses its luster. At that point, there will be a longer, more complicated process of treatment.

Common Mental Health Disorders

Mental health disorders are commonly linked to substance use disorders and may even be the catalyst that spurs the subsequent addiction. These disorders can be very serious and may endanger a person’s life or have a long-lasting negative impact that may go undiagnosed if evaluation and treatment are delayed.

  • ADHD: this disorder is most commonly linked to stimulants, many of which are prescribed by a doctor.
  • Bipolar Disorder: it is estimated that half of the people with bipolar disorder have substance abuse disorders. Drugs and alcohol provide temporary relief from the manic episodes experienced by those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: over two-thirds of the people diagnosed with BPD have substance use disorders.
  • Eating Disorders: drugs that suppress appetite is most common among this group. Also, the feelings of inferiority that come with eating disorders are another influence to “self-medicate.”
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: according to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, almost 75% of soldiers and veterans that have been diagnosed with PTSD report alcohol abuse issues, depression being a common disorder that many cite as their reason for drinking when dealing with PTSD.

Know the Triggers

There are a number of overlapping factors to consider when treating a dual-diagnosis, or co-occurrence of substance use disorders and mental health disorders. First, a person’s genetics can predispose them to develop both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder. In fact, studies suggest that genetics increases their likelihood of developing either disorder by 40-60%.

In mental health and substance abuse, it is not nature or nurture, but nature and nurture. A person’s environment can cue triggers to both their mental disorder and their substance use. For instance, PTSD is a common disorder that uses the terminology of “triggers” which can cause flashbacks. Many people use substances to treat their emotional responses to these triggers.

A person’s childhood can also be a factor in a dual-diagnosis of mental disorders and substance use disorders. A child who grows up in a household where substance use is common and viewed as normal are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder. Furthermore, those who experiment during adolescence and early teen years are more likely to develop an addiction. Many substance abuse related issues, like codependency, are developed due to childhood trauma.

Knowledge Is Power

Research suggests that both acute and prolonged use of drugs can affect a person’s brain responses. Some drugs can exacerbate an already existing mental disorder. For instance, in people with a genetic disposition of developing psychosis, marijuana increases the risk of them developing psychosis. Marijuana is often viewed as a less destructive drug and has become increasingly more socially acceptable. However, there are implications of serious side-effects of marijuana use and mental health disorders.

Many patients who suffer from anxiety will report that marijuana tends to exacerbate that symptom. This could be due to the different sub-species, Indica and Sativa. These sub-species provide a different effect from each other; Sativa provides a “mind-high,” promoting creativity and emotionally uplifting, while Indica provides a “body-high” and promotes intense relaxation. If a person with anxiety uses Sativa, this could exacerbate the anxiety. Drug education is very important in avoiding these kinds of reactions.

Diagnosing co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders may be difficult because the symptoms can often mimic each other and providing treatment can be just as difficult. It is crucial to find a tailored treatment when dealing with co-occurring disorders. This is why many models include inpatient treatment. The high attention that an inpatient receives is beneficial in treating them in the most effective way.

The best practice is to treat both disorders simultaneously. Treating them separately can prove tedious and one disorder may take precedence over the other. Also, treating them together is the best way to prevent relapse due to their mental triggers.

There seem to be many emerging models of addiction treatment that incorporate mental health therapy. Research points to between 50-75% of people diagnosed with mental health disorders are also diagnosed with substance abuse disorders. Both of these being very pressing issues in society, Northstar Transitions provides personalized care over many models to help recovery from co-occurring disorders. There is a stigma that comes with both disorders, but those seem to be relenting over the past several years. Many people may be undiagnosed when they enter treatment, and Northstar is here to properly educate those in recovery about the commonality of dual-diagnosis. Northstar Treatment is here to help you achieve your recovery goals. Call us now at 1-303-558-6400.


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