Many Substance Abusers Suffer Mental Illness, and Vice Versa

Many Substance Abusers Suffer Mental Illness, and Vice Versa

In recent years, co-occurring disorder has gained recognition as a diagnosis in the mental health and substance abuse fields. Co-occurring disorder refers to someone who has more than one addiction or disorder occurring at the same time. It is believed that more than one-third of people with alcohol addiction and more than 50 percent with drug abuse problems also suffer from one or more mental disorders, causing mental health professionals and patients to carefully consider the complex diagnosis of co-occurring disorder as they pursue recovery plans.

For many patients with co-occurring disorder, the mental illness may be a catalyst for substance abuse. Approximately 29 percent of people with a mental illness diagnosis are also abusing drugs, alcohol or a combination of both. Compared to people who don’t have a mental illness, people with a mental disorder – such as depression, anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder – may have up to six times higher chances of abusing drugs or alcohol.

Other personality disorders commonly existing simultaneously with substance abuse are panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. Sometimes referred to as dual-diagnosis, most people with co-occurring disorder will require treatment for both problems as they pursue recovery.

Co-occurring disorder is not limited to panic, anxiety or personality disorders. Some patients will demonstrate eating disorders in conjunction with substance abuse. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may prompt some patients to begin abusing drugs or alcohol.

The challenge with treating co-occurring disorder lies in its complexity. It can be difficult to clearly determine if a symptom is related to the drug or alcohol abuse, or the personality disorder. A patient suffering with panic attacks or anxiety disorder, for example, may drink alcohol to feel more relaxed.

Called self-medicating, over time the consumption of drugs or alcohol may actually lead to a serious addiction, bringing about a new circle of mental problems. Likewise, bouts of hostility, hallucinations or severe depression can result when a person is working through a serious dependence on drugs or alcohol.

The health risks and psychological risks are higher for people with co-occurring disorder, and patients also have lower chances of a successful recovery than patients with a single disorder. Adolescents may have additional risks if diagnosed with co-occurring disorder, especially when problems like depression occur because this can create stronger urges for abusing drugs and alcohol.

Experts suggest that patients seek treatment that addresses the mental conditions and problems at the root level, rather than just the alcohol or drug abuse. If only the substance abuse problem is addressed, a cycle of relapse can set in, causing even higher stress levels for the patient and family members. If the patient has experienced mental illness in the past, medication may be an important part of treating co-occurring disorder. Detoxification may also be a necessary step toward recovery.

With comprehensive, skilled treatment, patients with co-occurring disorder can recover – especially when the treatment is designed for multiple levels of mental disorders and addictions.

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