What are Co-Occurring Disorders?

When addiction is present at the same time as one or more mental health or psychiatric issues, the combined issues are described as co-occurring disorders.
Mental health disorders and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Addiction professionals believe that at least half of all people who seek treatment for an addiction also struggle with one ore more mental health conditions.

Co-occurring disorders display several common characteristics:

  • Symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse are similar. Addiction can mask symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illness, but mental illness can also hide signs of addiction.
  • Co-occurring disorders affect people in different ways. For example, people with mental illness often turn to alcohol or drugs to feel better, which can eventually lead to addiction. On the other hand, long-term use of drugs or alcohol can trigger various mental illnesses that weren’t there before. Sometimes, it’s hard to know which came first.
  • Treatment for co-occurring disorders is critical and should be addressed as soon as possible, not only the addiction alone. Serious consequences such as frequent relapse, financial and legal problems, physical illness and sometimes suicide attempts are not uncommon when co-occurring disorders are left untreated.
  • Coping with addiction is often a daunting task on it’s own, but when a person is faced with one or more co-occurring disorders, each condition can complicate the other. Getting better can be a long, but worthwhile journey and a treatment provider who understands co-occurring disorders will address both areas.
  • Medically supervised detox is often required before mental health disorders can be addressed. Detox is important because it is paramount to diagnose a mental illness properly, this cannot be achieved when a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Concurring issues are diagnosed and a comprehensive treatment plan is developed soon after completion of detox. Treatment must vary and be tailored to the individual situation. Crucial elements include intensive medical- and psychotherapy, lifestyle counseling, orthomolecular, restoration, psycho-education, trauma-therapy, family counseling etc.
  • Nutritional supplements and biochemical restoration of depleted and exhausted body and organ-systems are crucial and should not be overlooked.
  • In many cases, people with co-occurring disorders benefit substantially from therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, biofeedback or massage. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness based stress reduction are also invaluable tools to help control unhelpful or outdated belief system.
  • Treatment plans should encourage education and counseling for family members, which reduces the risk of relapse and the social “transmission” of dysfunctional behaviors throughout generations.
  • Treatment also includes a comprehensive aftercare plan that increases the chance of long-term recovery.

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