Co-Occurring Disorders: The Synergy of Mental Illness and Addiction

The Epidemic of Co-Occurring Disorders

SA&MA 1In the field of addiction treatment, there is a notable correlation that may present significant barriers to getting effective help. According to data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, nearly 60 percent of individuals who are admitted into substance abuse treatment have an underlying mental illness. In addition, nearly 75 percent of individuals diagnosed with a severe mental illness are also found to be afflicted with substance abuse or dependence.

While this occurrence is ever present in society today, it often goes unnoticed. In addition, the combination of substance abuse and mental illness presents unique elements that may hinder conventional treatment methods.

How Mental Illness Plays into Addiction

When examining the nature of addiction, one may first attempt to determine underlying SA&MA 2factors that would increase the likelihood of the addiction’s occurrence. Given the symptoms of different mental disorders, many individuals would be more inclined to pursue a substance that would counteract negative symptoms of a mental disorder. For example, individuals suffering from anxiety or panic disorders may be more inclined to abuse alcohol or depressant drugs like Benzodiazepines to calm his or herself.

On the other side of the spectrum, individuals who may be seeking heightened energy levels or the alleviation of chronic fatigue or depression may be more inclined to pursue the use of stimulants like Methamphetamine or Cocaine.

If a mental illness is present, individuals may be trying to self-medicate using different substances in order to feel a relative level of balance. However, attempting to accomplish this without medical supervision and approved medications is very dangerous, and often leads to the escalation into addiction.

Once individuals with co-occurring disorders enter treatment, mental illness still plays a substantial role in the client’s well-being. Oftentimes, mental illness may cause a barrier with counselors who do not take the client’s mental health into consideration. Many common problems may include impaired cognition or an inability to focus, thus impeding the client’s ability to retain information in the counseling sessions.

How Addiction Plays into Mental Illness

SA&MA 3While mental illness may directly contribute to the occurrence of chemical dependency, substances themselves also lend sway over the mental health. In many occurrences in the field of substance abuse treatment, there are often cases in which mental illnesses are induced by the use of substances. Some individuals with a predisposition for a mental illness may be triggered by using a substance.

For example, some individuals have taken a dose of hallucinogens like LSD and have been afflicted with permanent psychosis as a result. In addition, many substances may also exacerbate the negative effects of mental disorders, thus making treatment a more difficult task.

When addressing co-occurring disorders in treatment, it is vital that each element is individually addressed. If one is getting help for the mental disorder, but not for the addiction, the odds of a successful treatment outcome are significantly reduced. The same concept applies to treating addiction; both aspects must be addressed.

The process of treating both disorders in conjunction is known as dual-diagnosis. This method is widely regarded as the most effective means of treating addiction. If you or someone is facing co-occurring disorders, it is imperative that you find them specialized care that recognizes dual-diagnosis.

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