How to Treat a Co-Occurring Disorder

co-occurring disorders

For those who have co-occurring issues, treatment needs to be handled differently. So what is a co-occurring disorder and how do you treat it?

What is a co-occurring disorder?

Co-occurring disorders, also known as a dual diagnosis, is when someone suffers from both a mental disorder and an alcohol or drug addiction problem. This can mean a person has a mental disorder such as depression,  bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, sleep disorders, etc., as well as a problem with alcohol or drugs. A person who has a dual diagnosis has two separate illnesses, and each illness needs its own treatment plan.

How do you diagnose if someone has a dual diagnosis?

A co-occurring disorders can be difficult to diagnose because substance abuse can cover up symptoms of a mental disorder. Substance abuse can also trigger mental disorders that have been below the surface for years, or make existing mental illnesses exacerbated. In many cases, the drug or alcohol addiction started as a way to cope with mental health issues a person was struggling with. Someone with bipolar disorder, as an example, may start drinking heavily to cope with their mental anguish and confusion. Addiction professionals are finding many of their addiction cases are actually co-occurring disorders and only a professional addiction treatment center can effectively treat these illnesses separately while understanding and addressing the connection between the two. Psychiatric behaviors can mirror behaviors associated with alcohol or drug problems and vice versa. Dysfunctional behaviors that are typical with drug or alcohol abuse may have other causes, such as psychiatric, emotional, or social problems. Assessment tools, drug testing, and information from family members are critical to confirm these disorders.

substance abuseHow common are co-occurring disorders?

Unfortunately, this is more common than many suspect, especially among military and veterans. Below are some disturbing statistics from SAMHSA:

Approximately 50% of returning service members who need treatment for mental health conditions seek it, but only slightly more than half who receive treatment receive adequate care.

Between 2004 and 2006, 7.1% of U.S. veterans met the criteria for a substance use disorder.

Other occupations such as fire or police personnel have similar statistics, yet many of these people go untreated or undertreated.

Can you treat mental issues and addiction issues separately?

Many treatment centers do not understand how mental illness can contribute to substance abuse, or know how to treat them. Chronically relapsing addicts suffering from co-occurring disorders often do not receive the treatment they need. Because of the complications caused by their co-occurring disorders, they fail to overcome their addiction and easily relapse.

Trying to treat an addict’s mental disorders without addressing their substance abuse will also end in failure. Medications prescribed can be dangerous if taken alongside alcohol or other drugs, or become addictive themselves. Due to the stigma of both addiction and mental disorders, people with co-occurring disorders may hide one issue while seeking treatment for the other. Not only is this ineffective, it can be dangerous. Even doctors who are aware of a mental patient’s addiction may avoid the issue because they do not have the knowledge or desire to treat it. The best treatment for a co-occurring disorder is integrated intervention, when a person receives care for both their diagnosed mental illness and drug or alcohol abuse.

Treatment options include the following detoxification, inpatient treatment, supportive housing, psychotherapy, supervised medications and ongoing support groups. The key is to find a facility that has trained personnel to treat issues.

If you know someone you suspect is suffering from co-occurring disorders, it’s important to seek help early. Contact the Arizona Addiction Recovery Center now by visiting or calling 602.346.9130.