Co-occurring disorders are the combination of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder in one person, a situation that can lead to worsening symptoms in both disorders. Those who already have a mental health problem are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder. Approximately 10 million Americans having a co-occurring disorder, according to the latest info by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a department within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Finding effective ways to combat one disorder while suffering the effects of the other can be a challenge, even for those dedicated to making a change in their life.
Correlation Between Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders
Like other types of disorders commonly seen paired with mental health disorders, like eating disorders, finding a clear link between substance abuse and mental health problems can be tricky and vary from person to person. In some, mental illnesses like anxiety, major depression, ADHD, and bipolar lead them to abuse substances in order to cope with symptoms left unaddressed or undiagnosed. In others, reliance on substances and the subsequent effects can be the catalyst that causes one to develop a mental disorder. The most common types of abused and misused substances by those being treated for mental disorders are alcohol, tobacco, opioids, prescription drugs, and hallucinogens.
Because of the unique and complex chemistry of the brain and body, people who abuse substances might open themselves up to mental disorders they otherwise would not have suffered from. Despite no clear consensus on the subject, research is being conducted into how much genetics and heritage play in risk factors for mental disorders like ADHD and depression. If you have a family history of specific mental health disorders, using substances that affect your body and brain can be the final straw that causes you to develop one of these disorders.
Dealing With Two Co-Occurring Disorders
Because of the nature of co-occurring disorders, it often is unwise to focus solely on one or the other. By ignoring one aspect of the disorder, you are opening yourself up to relapses if the unaddressed disorder was the initial cause of the dual diagnosis. No matter which came first, the best option is still to try and address both disorders simultaneously.
Mental health disorders can be addressed through a wide range of potential activities, including counseling, diet and exercise, accountability systems, and medication. When medication is involved, staying sober and free of other substances is a high priority, even for those without a co-occurring diagnosis, but especially for those with one. Medication can have potentially dangerous and deadly side effects when combined with alcohol or other drugs. Other forms of therapy to address your mental health disorder are also less effective when you are not in a clear state of mind.
The best way to ensure you are successful in your long-term goal of defeating both disorders is to be honest with yourself, your close friends, and your family. Your disorders may have competing loyalties that drag you in different directions, and relapsing might be a common occurrence on the long path ahead. A support group that can take concrete steps to help, such as cutting off your supply to substances, is one of the most effective ways of dealing with a substance abuse disorder, especially when another condition might affect your mental capabilities.
Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor based in Sarasota. Call today to learn more about video visits and convenient scheduling based on your lifestyle.