Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

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Treatment for co-occurring disorders, or addiction and mental health disorders, was once considered to be different from each other. Depending on the issue, dedicated medical attention was provided to the patients using therapeutic approaches that were different from each other.

Due to this, many people who suffered from mental health issues such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or clinical depression never received treatment for their substance abuse. Similarly, many addicts with mental health disorders never received medical attention for the existing mental issues.

However, the medical condition involving both substance abuse and mental illness is termed as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Addiction specialists and mental health professionals are now focused on fighting co-occurring disorders using one treatment process. However, the presence of substance abuse along with a psychiatric disorder poses unique challenges for the medical team during the treatment. People with already existing mental health issues are more likely to fall prey to substance abuse.

A study from the National Institute of Health (NIH) shows that drug or alcohol addiction is twice as likely to happen in individuals with an underlying mental illness. The NIH reports also concludes that the average number of American adults suffering from co-occurring disorders is approximately 8.5 million.

People living with a mental illness or substance abuse are more prone to developing the other condition because:

  • Imbalance in brain chemistry may encourage the individual to try drugs and alcohol. Frequent use leads to addiction.
  • Substance abuse and mental illness may also run in the family, making the successors more prone to these health issues.
  • Drugs and alcohol can also be used as an escape from reality. Mental health patients often use substances to self-medicate or manage symptoms of the underlying mental illness.
  • Substance abuse can elevate the risk of developing mental health disorders. It is often noted in the case of addicts that their addictive traits lead to psychiatric disorders if they are neck-deep into addiction. Frequent substance abuse can also resurface any past (and cured) mental health condition.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Most of the mental health conditions have symptoms similar to addiction. This makes the diagnosis of either condition very problematic to complete. This difficulty during diagnosis may lead to the successful treatment of one condition while the other may be left untreated, leaving the patient at the risk of relapsing. Thus, the first step to the proper treatment of co-occurring disorders is the proper diagnosis of each condition and have an effective treatment plan ready.

There are certain drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs that specialize in treating co-occurring disorders. However, each option should be considered thoroughly before making a final call. The thought of recovering from a mental health condition can be overwhelming if you have a preexisting addiction disorder. Therefore, an extensive treatment plan and a well-qualified team of professionals is all you need for your success.

The following treatment processes can be considered while planning a long-term recovery from a co-occurring disorder.

Residential Treatment Programs

These programs are designed to provide solace from the daily stresses of life. They provide a supervised and structured support on your road to achieving success. These intensive residential programs help individuals to move away from the triggers of daily life and focus primarily on your recovery.

Individual Therapy

This approach targets the individual aspects of a patient and helps them build motivation, learn positive new behaviors, and identifying negative thoughts that may hamper your recovery. Various rehabilitation facilities have abandoned the decade-old style of therapy and switched to a type of treatment that centers on self-worth which fuels confidence in the individual, preventing them from future relapses.

Counseling For Families

Sometimes, supporting a loved one during treatment can be mentally exhausting. It may be frustrating and heartbreaking at the same time. However, doesn’t matter if you are the patient or someone close to them, proper education and support can offer great help to fight co-occurring disorders.

Medications Treatment

The medicinal approach is not always recommended for every patient, however, various medicines are deemed effective for the treatment. Medications such as anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and various other medicines can be used to minimize the effects of psychiatric disorders. Medications targeted towards addiction can also help minimize cravings and treat withdrawal symptoms.

Outpatient Treatment

Many working professionals, younger teenagers, or people with kids cannot dedicate their time to inpatient treatment programs. Many rehab centers offer outpatient treatment methods for patients who don’t need 24-hour supervision and want to receive proper attention without disrupting the usual life routine.

Holistic Approach

So there are only rehab centers and recovery centers to treat alcohol and drug addiction? Certainly not. With time, various alternative therapies have come into the picture which is equally effective in the fight against co-occurring disorders. Hypnotherapy, acupuncture, massage, and yoga are also offered by rehabilitation centers as part of their treatment regime. The use of red light therapy in treating mental illness is also emerging as an effective way.

Support Groups

If there’s one symptom that’s common in mental health and addiction, it is the feeling of isolation. Peer support groups and various other programs may help you connect with the people who are experiencing the same hardships of life and trying their best to recover from them. Knowing that you are not alone in this fight provides the biggest boost of confidence, helping you to be determined during recovery.

Post-Treatment Support

Addiction and mental health disorders are conditions that, if not taken care of, may come back at any point in life. Successful completion of the rehabilitation program induces a healthy mindset and lifestyle, however, it is also crucial to have support ready whenever you experience something off. The reason why a program that offers extensive aftercare services is highly recommended so you continue your journey towards complete recovery even after the treatment ends.


Co-occurring disorders are difficult to diagnose. And since their treatment involves tracking the source of symptoms, it is equally complex. In such cases, patients are always advised to seek professional help in deciding which treatment approach is best for them. Research on a personal level is recommended as well. The point is to choose a treatment program that focuses on both psychiatric disorders as well as substance abuse so that both are eradicated together.