Co-occurring disorders pair addiction with mental illness, and your recovery plan has to adapt.

Seven years ago, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration surveyed the U.S. population and learned that about 8.9 million Americans have a co-occurring disorder.That means that if you went through your day and saw 50 people in person, one would have this condition. But what are co-occurring disorders, and what should you know about them?

The “Dual Diagnosis”

A co-occurring disorder is when you have both a substance-abuse disorder and a mental illness. Some professionals call it a “dual diagnosis,” because the diagnosis is only correct when it includes both parts. And when you have a co-occurring disorder, it means you’ll need dual treatment (we’ll come back to that).

Researchers don’t yet know what causes someone to have a co-occurring disorder. It’s like figuring out why someone suffers from addiction, or from mental illness – there’s a mixture of biology, social environment and others that shift with every case. In short, the why is unclear. We don’t even know if addiction or mental illness comes first.

The Important Parts

You should know what co-occurring disorders mean for those who suffer from them. Their day-to-day recovery can often become much harder because of their condition. It’s because of how the condition exacerbates your addiction and your mental illness, and because it requires more intensive treatment.

Exacerbated Conditions

If you have a co-occurring disorder, it usually makes both your addiction recovery and your mental health much harder. Let’s try an example: if you suffer from alcohol addiction and depression, you have to balance both. But if you’re depressed and can barely get out of bed, how will you handle daily sobriety and regular peer meetings? And on the other side, if you drink too much and find yourself in hard spots because of your addiction, it might just make you more depressed. The two parts feed each other in a vicious cycle.

Co-occurring disorders can trap you between your addiction and your mental illness. It exacerbates both, and if you don’t know you have the condition, you might feel hopeless. That’s why your treatment becomes crucial.

Integrated Treatment

The word integrated might sound technical – think of sewing two pieces of cloth. You’ll need to lay them alongside one another, and as you work the needle, you’ll need to lay the two sides over one another. Whatever you do, to make the best fit, you have to coordinate the two cloths.

Integrated treatment does just that, just with your addiction and your mental illness. Your doctor can’t just treat you for addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, or sex. Your doctor also can’t just treat you for anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. They’ll have to help you recover from both at the same time (otherwise, one or the other will undo the progress you make).

Here are some parts of an integrated treatment program:

1. Medical detox (to flush out what you’re addicted to)

2. Addiction therapy (to understand why you became addicted, often one-on-one, in a group and with your family)

3. Mental health therapy (to understand your mental illness, often one-on-one, in a group and with your family)

So What Now?

If you’re only beginning your own addiction recovery, you should think about whether you have a co-occurring disorder or not. The National Institute of Health found that around half of people suffering from mental illness also experience substance abuse disorders (and vice versa). It’s worth looking into.

Just make sure you consult with a counselor or doctor. Looking into the mirror and guessing for yourself won’t always do the trick. Doing it that way might let you deny or rationalize. And that’ll keep you from the recovery help you need.

Begin Here!

In The Rooms isn’t a bad place to start your recovery. But we don’t just help you through addiction recovery; we have mental health resources if you need them. Look through our stories or our advice, and find a meeting for your recovery needs. We designed In The Rooms to serve whatever those are. Sign up today and see what you can change!

Image by Devanath from Pixabay


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