What Is a Co-Occurring Mental Disorder?

Also known as substance use disorder, drug and alcohol addiction have many possible underlying causes. One of the most common causes of drug or alcohol addiction is the existence of an untreated mental health disorder. For instance, if you’ve been using drugs or alcohol to alleviate strong and persistent feelings of depression, you may be living with major depressive disorder. When underlying mental health issues aren’t professionally diagnosed and treated, people often seek relief by treating themselves. This is known as having a co-occurring disorder.

In order for addiction treatment to succeed, both issues must be treated at once. For a person with a co-occurring disorder, suddenly stopping drug or alcohol use can be especially challenging. Not only can sudden abstinence bring about painful withdrawal symptoms, but it will also eliminate the individual’s preferred method of dealing with the effects of their underlying health issue. People who suffer from severe anxiety and depression will often experience worsening of their normal symptoms when they abstain. The good news is that professional rehab centers offer multiple options in treatment for co-occurring disorders. Often referred to as dual diagnosis treatment, these programs set the stage for lasting sobriety and wellness. They provide patients with healthy, effective, and sustainable strategies for managing their mental health issues, even as they provide services for general addiction recovery.

How Continued Substance Abuse Can Actually Make a Co-Occurring Disorder Worse

There are many mental health issues that qualify as co-occurring disorders. Among these are:

  • Schizophrenia
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

and more. When people use substances to alleviate the symptoms of these issues, they are often compounding the chemical imbalances that have initially caused them. Drugs and alcohol incite the release of mood-boosting, feel-good chemicals like dopamine, seratonin, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) among others. These neurotransmitters create feelings of relaxation and euphoria that substance users with certain co-occurring disorders can’t always experience on their own.

However, constantly triggering their release can wear these neurotransmitters out. Over time, they may begin to misfire or they may no longer be produced at all. As people develop increasingly greater tolerance to the substances they’re using, more of these same substances are often required to achieve feelings of normalcy. Not only is self-treating a co-occurring disorder a dangerous recipe for addiction, but it often heightens the very symptoms that people are hoping to alleviate.

People with general anxiety disorder eventually begin to feel increasingly more anxious, and those with major depressive disorder find themselves falling into longer and significantly deeper bouts of depression. Ultimately, the same drugs that once provided relief become responsible for causing greater levels of discomfort. It’s additionally important to note that certain mental health disorders can actually be induced by prolonged substance abuse. Long-term drug and alcohol addiction change the functioning, size, and chemistry of the brain. Thus, many people who’ve never exhibited the signs of mental health disorders before, start showing clear symptoms after prolonged drug or alcohol exposure. For these individuals, undergoing detox in a medically supervised facility can help restore mood balance and mental health. Whether a person’s mental health disorder has caused addiction or has been caused by it, getting clean is the very first step towards getting better.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders is structured to be as safe and comfortable as possible. Multiple interventions are used to alleviate both the physical and psychological discomfort of withdrawal. Patients are given strategies, therapies, and even medications for promoting deep and restful sleep, general mood balance, and a swift return to normal brain functioning and health. With certain mental health disorders, long-term medication management is required. In these treatments, patients are offered medications with minimal addictive properties, as well as balanced plans for maintaining healthy, sustainable life habits. Making a commitment to getting clean isn’t always easy.

Choosing to seek addiction treatment can be especially hard if you’re living with a co-occurring mental health disorder. By enrolling in an addiction recovery program that offers dual diagnosis treatment, you can get relief for both substance use disorder, and any other underlying issue that you’re dealing with. The best addiction treatment centers take an individualized and completely needs-specific approach to helping people learn how to live with and manage mental illness while simultaneously battling addiction. If you’re ready to to get on the path to wellness, we can help. Call us now at 833-820-2922.