When an individual is diagnosed with co-occurring disorders (also sometimes referred to as “dual diagnosis,” it means that they have both alcohol or drug addiction and a mental health disorder.
The following pairings are among the most common forms of co-occurring disorders:
Drug and alcohol addiction is often accompanied by a co-occurring emotional, or psychiatric condition. Studies show that one of every two individuals with severe mental illness also suffers from a substance abuse disorder. The psychiatric condition often occurs first and leads the individual to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
In other cases, the drug or alcohol addiction is the primary condition, which eventually leads to depression disorders, anxiety disorder or other mental health problems. Although each condition has distinct symptoms, they interact to make diagnosis and treatment more difficult. For example, treating only one condition can exacerbate the other, and increased use of drugs or alcohol often worsens the underlying mental health symptoms.
Co-occurring disorders can stem from a range of factors, including the following:
Family History – Both addiction and mental health disorders have a strong genetic component. If your family members have struggled with depression, anxiety, addiction or other mental health issues, you have a higher risk of developing these conditions.
Trauma — Traumatic events such as abuse or loss of a loved one can trigger both mental health and substance abuse disorders.
Self-Medication – Drug or alcohol may be used in an attempt to cope with symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders
Often, a mental health disorder is not discovered until an individual becomes clean and sober. Psychiatric symptoms can be masked by substance use and drug use can produce similar symptoms to those of mental illness. Upon receiving a dual diagnosis, each co-occurring disorder must be treated simultaneously within an integrated model to achieve the best possible outcome.
When the disorders are treated separately, the risk of relapse is exceedingly high. Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities are generally the most successful in helping patients with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders achieve lasting recovery. Individuals with a co-occurring disorder need the guidance and support of highly skilled professionals who specialize in working with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.
Treating both chemical dependency and mental health disorders in one program, provides the opportunity for professionals to work together to understand the interplay between multiple illnesses.