Jan 27, 2023

The Challenges of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders combine mental health disorders and addiction. There are many unique challenges in treating co-occurring disorders.

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

The first step to effectively receiving treatment for co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis is understanding them. Co-occurring disorders are mental health conditions that occur alongside substance or alcohol use disorders. Multiple, even many different conditions can be present in a single person at one time. Several different categories of diagnoses can lead to someone being diagnosed with co-occurring disorders. 

People who struggle with addiction often also have co-occurring disorders. This includes disordered eating or mood and anxiety disorders. These disorders can manifest in a variety of ways, including addiction to illicit drugs like crystal meth or heroin, as well as the misuse of legally prescribed medications like Adderall or Xanax. Additionally, individuals with panic disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, or major depression are commonly affected by addiction.

How Common is a Dual Diagnosis?

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, up to half of individuals with active addiction may also have undiagnosed mental health conditions. This suggests that a significant portion of individuals seeking recovery, including those not receiving specialized dual-diagnosis care, may be affected by addiction and mental health issues.

It starts for many people because they come in for one thing. Then we learn much more about them, and their clinicians can evaluate them more accurately. Problems or conditions previously missed can be easily found here and addressed with appropriate treatment methods. 

The Massachusetts Center for Addiction takes the time to ensure that each patient receives the care they need promptly. We treat the patient holistically, providing a more vibrant healing cycle. 

Substance Abuse or Mental Health: Which Comes First?

Much of the National Institute on Mental Health data shows that many people with severe mental health challenges also have a SUD or an AUD. A large portion of those with a substance or alcohol use disorder also has mental health issues, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed. The debate comes in deciding if either one causes the other. 

There is no concrete proof yet that drug abuse can create mental disorders or cause them to develop in those who did not previously have them. However, there is some evidence that the behavior and thought process changes that result from mental illnesses may make substance use, alcohol use, or addiction, in general, a much more likely outcome. Many people with severe mental illnesses will attempt to self-medicate to reduce or relieve the symptoms of their condition. 

The Challenges of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

The biggest challenge to treating co-occurring disorders is to have them accurately diagnosed. In many cases, the proper and correct diagnosis of the disorders is the hardest part. However, once the individual enters treatment, it can often be determined much more quickly. 

Often drug or alcohol use hides the symptoms of many mental conditions or lessens their severity. The opposite is also true, and the symptoms of many mental health issues will obscure or hide the potential indicators of substance abuse or alcohol abuse. Finding the right kind of treatment for each diagnosis is vital. 

What are the Treatment Options for Dual Diagnosis?

Some of the most popular and effective treatments for dual-diagnosis patients will incorporate multiple therapy sessions and educational options. There are some types of behavioral therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that can be used to help the individual identify their own potentially problematic thought processes. Additional options for treating dual diagnoses include motivational interviewing and a medication management program.

Sometimes, medication-assisted treatment will involve medicating the patient to help with withdrawal symptoms or to help manage addictions long-term. The medications frequently used for this purpose include buprenorphine and methadone. Still, there can also be antipsychotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and more. 

The most effective treatments will often combine a variety of different therapies, as well as group and individual counseling and a prescription medication management program, combined with adequate relapse prevention education. 

The Importance of a Non-Linear Approach to Treatment

One of the more important things to remember when going through the healing and recovery process is that healing and recovery aren’t linear. There will be ups and downs, good days and bad, and there may even be relapses. This is all part of the process, and you should never compare your experience to someone else’s.

There may also be discoveries in treatment that require adjustment to the recovery framework. An individual may come in to treat an addiction. However, it’s then discovered that the patient is also undiagnosed with major depression. This means the treatment needs to be drastically updated to fit the new understanding of the patient. This can happen again if it’s determined that the depression stems from unprocessed childhood trauma, which means the treatment style may need to adapt further. 

This is what a proper non-linear approach means. By working closely with the patient and addressing their needs, the treatment plans are continuously updated to be personally tailored to each patient. 

Helping a Loved One With a Dual Diagnosis

Call us today if you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction and mental health issues. The first step to effective treatment is to speak with a professional. By reaching out to the Massachusetts Center for Addiction, you can discuss the available treatment programs and continuity of care options after treatment. Reach out today to start recovery tomorrow.

MCA Staff
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