Co-Occurring Disorders and Treatment

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis, refers to a person who has been diagnosed with having both a mental health and substance abuse disorder at the same time. There are no specific mental health or substance abuse disorders that would disqualify a person from a co-occurring diagnosis. As long as that individual has been professionally diagnosed with both types of disorders as defined by the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a co-occurring disorder would then apply.

In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported in their latest publication of Behavioral Health Trends in the United States that of the 35.6 million people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, in addition to the 12.3 million who have a substance abuse diagnosis, 7.9 million of the sum have co-occurring disorders. These numbers are rather alarming and has subsequently indicated some level of correlation.

While a correlation between mental health and substance abuse disorders may exist, both disorders may not have always been present at the same time or at their onsets. There are many cases where one disorder opened the door to the other. For instance, a person may have developed or was diagnosed with a mental health disorder early in their teens, and then perhaps turned to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Many times, that dependency is later diagnosed as a substance abuse disorder. When this occurs, addictions can raise the risks of a mental disorder becoming more severe. Additionally, physical or medical conditions can develop more easily as a result of substance abuse, which only complicates the already existing co-occurring disorder.

Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders

Due to findings that mental health disorders can be a contributing factor to substance abuse, SAMHSA recommends that both disorders be treated with an integrative approach where a team of mental health and substance abuse professionals simultaneously provide therapy. Historically, treatment teams only focused on one disorder with the notion that once one issue is addressed, then the other can be tended as well. For instance, a client would be sent to rehab to treat the substance abuse only, then later on would receive mental health treatment.

Today, the most accepted approach to treatment for co-occurring disorders is an integrative approach. An integrative approach combines mental health and substance abuse treatments, allowing the patient to receive combined and cohesive care for both illnesses. Typically, a treatment team is assigned to a patient and then coordinates appropriate interventions for each disorder. The team routinely follows up with the patient to ensure the co-occurring disorders are being treated effectively. As a result, patients with co-occurring disorders have found more success when both disorders are treated at the same time, as they have one team of professionals who they have built rapport with and can trust.

Types of Therapy Treatments For Co-Occurring Disorders

When it comes to the different types of therapies used to treat co-occurring disorders, a few are especially successful. Those therapies are:

Cognitive and Dialectical behavior therapies are well known in the mental health field to treat behaviors stemming from psychological to substance abuse disorders. While CBT focuses more on coping strategies designed to prevent self-harm, DBT aims to reduce suicidal ideations by assisting the client in becoming more mindful and accepting of reality.

Family and interpersonal therapies are also key elements to recovery. Family therapy will attempt to assist not only the patient, but also those around them to understand mental disabilities along with ways in which they can help one another. Interpersonal therapy tends to focus on helping the patient communicating with other people in order to convey their needs in a more constructive manner. Doing so aids in reducing negative behaviors to include substance abuse and suicidal tendencies.

Group therapy is designed to allow the patient to open up and be more transparent concerning their feelings towards their mental health and addiction. Being in a group also helps patients to confront their issues in a safe space with others who are dealing with similar issues. The support given by other group members also aids in overcoming past trauma, as well as substance abuse.

Other Treatments

Aside from therapeutic approaches for co-occurring disorders, psychoeducation, peer support programs, psychotropics, relapse prevention, and of course, detox and rehabilitation programs are most likely to be included during the course of treatment. The combination of these types of treatments will not only teach the patient more about their disorders, but it will provide them with the support needed to continue on with treatment, as many times, the presence of one disorder can affect ones motivation to proceed. Having a solid support system is extremely beneficial with co-occurring disorders.

How Family and Friends Can Help

Suffering from co-occurring disorders not only affects the patient, but family and friends suffer greatly as well. The guilt that often comes along with substance abuse may cause the patient to distance themselves from others for extended periods of time. Increase conflict within the family system may also take place.

Many times, family and friends do not understand the causes and effects of co-occurring disorders, often resulting in their own mental health becoming affected. The stress of dealing with someone else’s mental health issues can result in physical, emotional, and mental consequences if not appropriately dealt with.

For this reason, it is vital that family and friends participate in the treatment process by attending psychoeducational workshops, group and family therapy sessions, as well as following recommendations given by the treatment team professionals.

Make the Call

Patients whose substance abuse disorder is severe enough to warrant detox are especially encourage to visit a detox or rehabilitation center, as making this a part of the integrative approach to treating co-occurring disorders has been reported to have much success when extreme substance abuse exists.

If you or someone you know are suffering from co-occurring disorders where severe substance abuse is involved, please do not hesitate to contact Novo Detox as we specialize in helping our patients to break free from addiction.
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