woman discussing with therapist what co-occurring disorders are

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Substance abuse presents enormous challenges. The cycle of addiction can be difficult to break and requires the individual to put a lot of effort into getting clean. In many cases, mental illness can make recovery much more difficult and may result in additional challenges. When a person has both substance abuse and a mental illness, this is called a co-occurring disorder.

Also known as “dual diagnosis” disorders, co-occurring disorders are very common. The insidious thing about co-occurring disorders is that either one can come first. For example, an individual suffering from depression or anxiety might turn to alcohol to self-medicate and alleviate symptoms. Conversely, a person that abuses alcohol might develop depression or anxiety. Each disorder influences the other, so attempting to treat one before the other is ineffective; they must be addressed simultaneously at a dual diagnosis treatment center.

There are a variety of mental illnesses that can co-occur with substance abuse. The most common include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

If you or a loved one has struggled with mental health and addiction, you may have heard the term and wondered, “what are co-occurring disorders?” Reach out to The Right Step Houston at 1.844.768.0169 for information and answers.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Substance abuse takes a toll on an individual and their home, work, or school relationships. However, mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression can do the same. When they co-exist, doctors label it a “co-occurring” or a “dual-diagnosis” disorder which means the

Identifying the presence of a co-occurring disorder can be a challenge since combinations of disorders and their symptoms will vary. The typical tells of a substance use disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, include:

  • Pulling away from trusted relationships
  • Changes in behavior or personality
  • Engaging in risky activities
  • Inability to moderate
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Believing you can only function on a drug

Mental health conditions can have similar symptoms and can also vary. Anxiety disorders can involve overwhelming worry; depression can lead to excessive sadness or dark feelings.

Understanding the symptoms will help understand the question, “what are co-occurring disorders?”

Addressing the Challenges

Co-occurring disorders treatment is much more accessible today. If you are in Texas, The Right Step Houston offers a professional and comprehensive treatment program for dual diagnosis. At one point, the prevailing thinking was that you couldn’t treat someone’s depression or anxiety while they were still drinking. Today, doctors believe that integrated treatment, where both conditions are addressed simultaneously, leads to the best outcomes. It makes sense, too – as we now better understand how the two conditions interact.

Not every co-occurring disorder presents itself in the same way. Mental health and addiction specialists will design a treatment plan that’s unique to you. But there are common elements. Most of the time, you’ll start treatment with a period of detox and rehab to address the impact of ongoing substance abuse.

After that, you can expect a period of substance abuse and mental health counseling. You’ll likely be asked to sit for both individual and group therapy sessions and maybe even family therapy. Post counseling, you’ll be provided with “aftercare” resources to help prevent relapse.

The Extent of Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders began to emerge sometime in the early 1980s. Since then, our understanding of them has grown tremendously. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people suffering from anxiety or depression are about twice as likely to experience difficulties with substance abuse than the general population.

Interestingly, the opposite is also true. People addicted to drugs or alcohol are about twice as likely to experience mental health challenges than the average person. About 8 million adults are diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder in the United States.

It is also important to remember that a co-occurring disorder can be one or more substance abuse issues combined with one or more mental health disorders. It is not uncommon for a person to struggle with drug and alcohol addiction while battling anxiety and depression. The complexity and variability of dual diagnosis is what makes it so difficult to answer, “what are co-occurring disorders?”

Double the Help

What are co-occurring disorders? It’s hard enough to have either a mental illness or a substance abuse problem. Having both makes life – and treatment – much more complicated. At The Right Step Houston, our counseling team is well-versed in all forms of substance abuse problems. They understand the resulting complications. We provide a full range of treatment programs and counseling to help put you on a path to sobriety. Our programs include medical drug detox programs, inpatient drug rehab centers, alcohol addiction treatment, important aftercare programs, and many other options, including gender-specific treatment protocols. Call us today for a confidential consultation at 1.844.768.0169.

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