Co-Occurring Disorder

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder takes place when someone with an addiction also has a mental health condition. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, people with a substance use disorder are twice as likely to experience symptoms of a mental health disorder. An individual can have any combination of mental disorders to receive a dual diagnosis.

Diagnosing someone with a co-occurring disorder can be difficult, considering that the symptoms may overlap. For example, someone who is addicted to cocaine might exhibit traits associated with mania.
But that doesn’t mean they have bipolar disorder. If someone’s dual diagnosis does not receive proper treatment, they could end up homeless, incarcerated, suicidal or dead.

If someone has a co-occurring disorder, they will need to seek out treatment that addresses both disorders at the same time. Due to the regularity of co-occurring disorders, there are numerous options for people who deal with this condition.

Learning to live with a co-occurring disorder is a lifelong process. However, it is not impossible. It takes time and people need to be patient with themselves and their process. Recovery is a lifestyle and doesn’t have an expiration date.

What is a Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s feeling, mood and thinking. These conditions will affect an individual’s social behavior and ability to function. The National Institute of Mental Illness estimates that about 1 in 17 Americans over 13 are living with a serious mental illness or mental health disorder.

People who have a mental health condition didn’t end up in their situation because of a single event. It is generally the result of a culmination of factors and circumstances. Sometimes people who have gone through a traumatic life event can develop a mental health condition as well.

There is a vast amount of stigma regarding mental illness, which makes it so that people often don’t talk about it. This generally makes it worse. Mental illness isn’t something to feel ashamed of. It happens to a lot of people. Mental illness can impact anyone. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, income, social status or race.

Most mental health disorders begin around age 24—however, they can happen at any age. Mental illness has a range. It can be anywhere from mild to severe. Everybody’s mental illness is different. Some of the most common mental illnesses are bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Quick Stats:

about 25% of U.S. adults have a mental illness

Dual Diagnosis

If someone has a co-occurring disorder, they will need inpatient treatment that addresses all of their needs. This is called dual diagnosis treatment. When someone goes to treatment, they will first have to detox from the drugs accumulated in their system. After that, the client will be ready for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation places the client in an atmosphere with other people who are going through treatment.

The client will learn about both their addiction and their mental illness. Most importantly, the will learn how to combat their mental illness effectively so they don’t feel tempted to abuse drugs.

Following treatment, it is suggested that the client look into aftercare options, such as support groups and counseling. Treatment is an ongoing process that takes time. There is no cure for addiction, but people can enjoy a life of freedom and sobriety if they implement the lessons learned in treatment.

Quick Stats:

50% of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime

Progression of the Two: Which Comes First?

There is no predetermined order to developing a co-occurring disorder. People can develop an addiction first, then experience symptoms of mental illness brought on by substance abuse. Many times, people will have predispositions toward mental illness that lie dormant until they use drugs. Most mental illnesses are mood disorders and drugs alter moods—it’s a match made in triggering town where the two dimensions offset and reinforce each other.

Another possibility consists of people who develop a mental disorder in childhood will turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with their illness. Often, people use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. For instance, someone with anxiety might turn toward alcohol in order to feel calm or someone with depression might seek out uppers to make them feel better about their disease. Over time, people can develop an addiction.

Since there isn’t a cure for mental illness, people will have an insatiable craving to heal and drugs and alcohol will not fill that need. Unfortunately, a lot of people will chase this forever elusive need. People need to feel safe. People need to feel calm. But, drug and alcohol abuse can exacerbate the effects of mental illness and in some instances, bring the illness out.

Quick Stats:

In 2002, the US spent $300 billion on Mental Illness

Schizophrenia and Marijuana

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness where people experience delusions, hallucinations and general mental impairment. When someone has schizophrenia, their brain is rewired in distinct ways. Specifically, the disease increases endocannabinoid, which play a role in mood, perception and appetite.

The main ingredient in marijuana is THC; its main role is to impact endocannabinoid receptors. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, when THC targets the receptors, it alters the normal activity in the brain. The specific areas affected are ones that impact rational thinking, judgement and memory. Columbia University reports that individuals in the prodromal (period between initial stages and fully developed illness) may experience an initial onset of the schizophrenia through marijuana or cocaine use.

Recent research in the journal Molecular Psychiatry suggests that having schizophrenia can lead to someone smoking weed. Researchers believe the genes that predispose an individual to enjoying weed might also predispose someone to developing schizophrenia. Researchers often argue that smoking Marijuana worsens schizophrenia and self-medicating can make it worse.

Depression and Alcohol

Depression, or a major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder that causes people to feel a persistent sense of sadness and hopelessness. It is a biological thing, as people with depression have brains that are wired differently than those who don’t. Depression is accompanied also by feelings of lethargy and apathy, which comes from the neurological component of the disease.

For a long time, researches have noticed a tangible link between alcohol and depression. The National Institute of Health reports that 30 to 50 percent of people with alcohol issues (at any given time) also suffer from a major depressive disorder. Oddly enough, alcohol is a depressant, but it acts like a stimulant.

Unfortunately, because alcohol is a depressant, it can make people’s preexisting depression even worse—plunging them deeper into the depths of despair.

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