It is common for individuals struggling with addiction to develop other mental illnesses. People with mental illnesses may also self-medicate, causing a substance addiction to form. In fact, most people with an addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) struggle with co-occurring disorders.

Whether a person’s struggle with mental illness has led to substance use or vice versa, achieving recovery requires treatment for all disorders involved. Treatment for a mental and substance use disorder occurs in a dual-diagnosis program. When considering treatment options, individuals should question whether or not a program can accommodate a dual diagnosis.

Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes a SUD as a “mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to a person’s inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.”

As mentioned previously, individuals who experience SUD tend to experience a co-occurring mental disorder, which may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Gambling addiction

Just as biological, environmental, and social factors influence the cause of addiction, so are the causes of mental and substance use disorders in these situations. Understanding the complex connection between these disorders can hopefully help individuals see the importance of dual-diagnosis treatment.

How Are Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders Connected?

In a dual diagnosis, it is hard to determine if one disorder is causing another or which developed first. The National Library of Medicine indicates three possible reasons why substance use and mental disorders occur together. Those reasons include:

#1. Risk factors – genetics, stress, and trauma – can contribute to developed mental and substance use disorders.

#2. People with mental disorders may use drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms. Doing this is known as self-medicating.

#3. Excessive substance use can physically alter the body and brain, affecting their functions. So, when these changes occur, it can increase the chance of developing a mental disorder.

In truth, knowing which disorder came first is not as important as creating an individualized treatment plan that helps all co-occurring conditions. If one disorder is treated as primary and the other as secondary, the treatment may not be as effective. All disorders must be treated as equally impactful. It’s crucial to find a treatment center that understands this.

Diagnosing Co-Occurring Disorders

Before treatment for addiction and co-occurring disorders can begin, there must be a diagnosis. Making a dual diagnosis can be a challenge. That is because symptoms of mental illness and addiction can be identical. There are, however, some indications that help identify dual diagnosis, including:

  • Individuals using substances to handle negative feelings or past trauma
  • Experiencing adverse effects on mental health because of substance use
  • A family history of mental illness in addiction

Any reputable doctor will ask about this information to ensure they’re making a proper diagnosis. If a medical provider doesn’t do this, the patient should seek out a different doctor.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Upon reaching out to a doctor or treatment professional, a successful diagnosis can be made, and treatment can begin. Multiple forms of treatment exist that can help with co-occurring disorders. Additionally, many treatments used in addiction recovery are similar to those utilized when treating other mental illnesses. Two primary approaches to treatment include behavioral therapies and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Behavioral Therapies

NIMH indicates a few behavioral therapies that can effectively treat substance use and mental disorders. Those therapies include:

#1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people learn to cope with difficult situations by changing their behavior and challenging harmful or negative thoughts.

#2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) teaches skills that help control intense emotions, reduce self-destructive behaviors, and regulate emotions.

#3. Assertive community treatment (ACT) is community-based, emphasizing outreach to communities and individual therapy.

#4. Therapeutic communities (TC) are long-term residential treatments concentrating on helping individuals develop healthy behaviors.

#5. Contingency management (CT) fosters health behaviors in people through a type of reward system dependent on positive behaviors.

These group and individual therapies teach coping skills, alter unhelpful behaviors, and develop a strong support system.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

In addition to behavioral therapies, medications can help people cope with addiction and co-occurring disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines MAT as “the use of medication, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.” Certain medications, under medical supervision, can be beneficial during detox and withdrawal. Other medications can help maintain sobriety during rehabilitation.

A combination of medication, individual counseling, group therapy, and even family-based treatment can help individuals recover from their struggle with SUD and mental illness. To live a life of recovery, you must consider a program that can treat a dual diagnosis.

Substance use disorders can be difficult to treat depending on the type of substance, the potency, and the longevity of use. Unfortunately, the majority of individuals struggling with addiction are also struggling with a mental illness. Some people experience symptoms of mental illness as a symptom of addiction, while others turn to substance use to cope with their mental disorder. In either scenario, if you hope to live a life of recovery, you must seek treatment for both substance use and mental health disorders. At Excel Treatment Center, we provide comprehensive psychiatric evaluations to ensure our clients receive the right care. If you or someone you know is ready to heal from addiction and co-occurring disorders, call us at (866) 983-6280