For many individuals, alcohol and drug abuse are often accompanied by other mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. In fact, about 50 percent of individuals with a severe mental health disorder also suffer from a substance abuse problem. While these may seem like separate issues, there is actually a term for disorders that go hand-in-hand like these: co-occurring disorders. They may also be referred to as a dual diagnosis, although co-occurring disorder is the more widely used and accepted term.
For example, a person who drinks may also suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s almost as if both disorders feed off each other – if that person is feeling depressed or anxious, they want to drink. However, their drinking usually results in feeling depressed or anxious. It becomes a harmful and frustrating cycle, but can be hard for the person going through it to identify since they are unsure which problem came first.
Here are 5 things to know about co-occurring disorders:
1. Co-occurring disorders can be addressed through integrated treatment.
In other words, they need to be approached as one disorder, not two separate ones, since they both affect the other. A treatment plan should be developed in order to improve both disorders. The same team should develop a plan for both, rather than two separate teams. If treated as one, both disorders have better chances of improving with treatment. According to DualDiagnosis.org, the elements of an integrated treatment plan include “coordinated treatment for multiple disorders, bundled interventions, no division between mental health and substance abuse treatments and all health professionals collaborate in one setting.” Since the mid-1990s, there have been over eight studies conducted that have determined that integrated treatment is effective for co-occurring disorders.
2. There are facilities that specialize in co-occurring disorders.
Like anything treatment-related, it may take time to find the right fit for a treatment center. However, anyone with co-occurring disorders should be aware that certain treatment facilities offer integrated treatment and a psychiatric team, while other facilities may not focus on it as much. It comes down to doing the research to be sure that where one is seeking treatment is the right type of facility for the disorders they are battling. In order to find a good fit, there are dual diagnosis hotlines one may call.
3. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach for co-occurring disorders (and there never will be).
Since there are so many combinations of dual diagnoses, such as alcoholism and depression, drug use and bipolar disorder, etc., it is impossible to design a program that will be effective for everyone who is suffering. Therefore it is important that those who treat co-occurring disorders give each individual their own treatment plan and take the time to really understand what it is the individual suffers from.
4. Treatment for co-occurring disorders can take longer than treatment for one disorder.
Since there is more to sift through and treat, co-occurring disorder treatment is difficult to put a time frame around. Often times treatment will last until a patient feels prepared to discontinue it, whereas for alcohol, treatments often last 28 days or 3 months. Co-occurring disorders are simply less predictable and often harder to manage and treat.
5. An aftercare plan is absolutely necessary.
While this is true for a discharge from any treatment program, it is especially vital for co-occurring disorder patients. Often times this is because co-occurring disorder patients have been started on some type of medication and need a psychiatrist outside the treatment facility in order to continue being prescribed their medication. However, regardless of whether medication is involved, some sort of plan should be put in place so that the patient feels secure in entering the real world again.
If you believe you or someone you know is suffering from co-occurring disorders, we can help. We can design your needed treatment plan today. Call us at 877.977.3079.
Written by: Beth Leipholtz