Co-Occurring Disorders: The Link Between Addiction and Mental Health

Recent breakthroughs in substance abuse treatment have discovered a strong link between drug or alcohol abuse and specific mental health disorders. This revelation about the possible connections allows room for a professional dual diagnosis and a subsequent treatment plan that will encompass both areas of concern.

The discovery of links between co-occurring disorders is a useful tool in the diagnosis of either substance abuse or a mental health disorder. When an individual is suffering from either a mental health disorder or a substance abuse problem, it is possible that they are also experiencing a co-occurring disorder that is exacerbating their condition. Early detection of this possibility can help lead an individual to a life of self-acceptance and sobriety.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

In medical terminology, co-occurring events or symptoms are also known as comorbid disorders, and this phenomenon appears in multiple medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Comorbidity can occur virtually anywhere one or more chronic conditions have appeared. The likelihood of one of these conditions occurring after or along with another is very high because the body functions as an operating unit where all parts are dependent upon one another for proper utilization. When one part is not operating normally, it can quickly cause a dysfunction somewhere else in the body because another part is attempting to pick up the slack.

In the mental health field, co-occurring conditions also appear quite often and for essentially the same reason. The mind works in a way that is very similar to the rest of the body in that it wants to protect itself and will find a way to compensate when one or more parts becomes dysfunctional. This practice at work can lead to a multitude of different conditions such as the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a host of more serious mental health disorders such as:

  • Behavioral disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

These represent just a few of the possible conditions that may be worsened by a struggle with substance abuse. Even when considered alone, these disorders are difficult to manage without support. Attempting to handle a dual diagnosis without proper support can create further damage and delay productive treatment.

Why Comorbidity Occurs

Any of the above conditions is more likely to occur when a substance abuse issue is also present. It is possible for both conditions to be medical, mental, or a combination of both. Comorbidity or the co-occurrences of multiple disorders happens as part of the natural process the mind and body utilize to ensure a healthy and protective state. There are a number of theories on why comorbidity occurs, and although definitive proof is still under investigation, science has some very strong hypotheses. When one area of the body or mind becomes weak or dysfunctional, another area is required to perform a dual duty. Since the human mind and body are not designed with parts that multitask, this system of one area trying to perform double assignments is not effective or efficient.

Comorbidity of one mental health disorder may include a secondary mental health disorder, medical complications or substance abuse problems. Although the conditions may occur simultaneously or within the same time frame, one is not necessarily caused by the other. Each will affect the other as well as the body as a whole, but the treatment of one will not automatically cure the other conditions. When co-occurring symptoms or disorders are present, the best option is to treat them both, separately or together. A holistic approach tackles all angles and ensures that the body is working in tandem as well as in conjunction with the mind.

Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Abuse

There is a longstanding history between mental health disorders and substance abuse and addiction. The prevalence is so high among members of both parties that the cross over levels reaches almost astronomical proportions. The vicious cycle of substance abuse and addiction are so closely related to the mental health field that the two are virtually interchangeable. Recognizing the relationship between substance abuse tendencies and one or more mental health conditions can have a positive impact on viable treatment options. However, looking for a specific cause and effect relationship as the sole option for the treatment of either condition may not be the most effective approach.

Risk Factors of a Co-Occurring Disorder

As with any other medical condition that increases the likelihood of co-occurring symptoms or conditions, there are certain potential risks for any individual when either a mental health disorder or a substance abuse tendency are present. Some of the most common risk factors for developing a mental health condition or becoming prone to addictive behaviors such as alcohol or substance abuse are:

  • Family history of the condition
  • Previous experience
  • Lack of a support system
  • Inability to express emotions

Many people do not realize that a family history of any mental health condition may increase their chances of developing the same or similar conditions. Although the significance of heredity has long been established in various medical fields, data has been slow to catch up in the way of substance abuse and mental health disorders. The evidence is clear and can be visibly seen in many families and communities where drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent.

Individuals with a history of drug or alcohol use are more likely to engage in the same behaviors again in the future. This tendency is increased even more when the person has a known mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, especially when they stop treatment for that condition. Although the pattern seems counterintuitive, it is quite common for a person to discontinue treatment for an ailment when they feel overwhelmed or hopeless in regards to their overall situation. In turn, this creates a desire to self-medicate, often through the use of alcohol or drugs.

Several viable treatment options exist for those suffering with a mental health disorder as well as a substance abuse problem. With the correct substance abuse counseling and a thorough evaluation, potential co-occurring disorders can be uncovered and treated.

If you think you may be experiencing a mental health condition and a problem with substance abuse, contact St. John’s Recovery Place today. Qualified admissions consultants can assist you with evaluating your symptoms and discuss treatment options.

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