Identifying Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder

By April 30, 2021Mental Health
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Despite popular portrayals of addiction in movies and television shows, addiction does not exist in a vacuum. Numerous factors go into the development of addiction that also work to sustain it over time. Many people don’t realize that mental health disorders play a significant role in addiction, often making each disorder’s symptoms worse. When a mental health disorder is present with an addiction, this is known as a co-occurring disorder. Treating both is crucial for a successful recovery, so it is vital to be aware of the signs to identify them in yourself or others. This way, you can get the proper help you need for a life-long recovery!

Beneath the Surface: Co-Occurring Disorders

First and foremost, it is critical to understand what co-occurring disorders are, as they commonly occur when addiction is present. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “the coexistence of both a mental health and a substance use disorder is referred to as co-occurring disorders.” It is not clear which can appear first and which causes the other since both disorders can worsen symptoms of the other present disorder. For example, having a mental health disorder poses a higher risk of developing an addiction, but addiction can also cause symptoms of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. As the person continues self-medicating, the symptoms of each become worse and worse. 

Unique Symptoms

While there are common signs and symptoms that can point to co-occurring disorders, it is vital to note that they will vary depending on which mental health disorder is present and which drug the person is abusing. For example, a person that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is abusing cocaine will have different symptoms than someone struggling with opioid addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder. When examining the general symptoms of co-occurring disorders, it is crucial to keep this in mind to understand the differences and potential discrepancies.

Common Signs of a Co-Occurring Disorder

Knowing what a co-occurring disorder is when it comes to addiction is not enough, as the signs and symptoms can easily be overlooked or blamed solely on the addiction itself. However, having a co-occurring disorder can hinder the person’s recovery because the symptoms will continue to occur even after they get sober, setting them up for a possible risk of relapse. Identifying the signs can allow the person to get the proper care they need in treatment so the facility can treat both disorders simultaneously. 

A person may have a co-occurring disorder if they display any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Impulsive, risky behavior
  • Problems focusing
  • Sudden changes in overall behavior
  • Confused thinking
  • Using substances despite negative consequences
  • Developing a tolerance to certain substances
  • Undergoing severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Loss of control concerning drug and alcohol consumption
  • Intense cravings for the substance

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Disorders

A person with a co-occurring disorder will benefit most from a treatment program that addresses the addiction and mental health disorder simultaneously. Treating both disorders at the same time will help reduce the risk of relapse in the future since the person will know how to manage their symptoms better. There are various treatment modalities used to treat co-occurring disorders, and it is recommended that the person goes to rehab to receive the proper treatment. 

Treatment will usually begin with detox, depending on the severity of the addiction. The detox process will allow any toxins leftover from drug abuse to leave the body and withdrawal symptoms to take their course. After detox, it is recommended that the patient enter inpatient rehab to receive the support and treatment they need to recover. Treatment will typically involve a combination of therapy, medication, and holistic modalities. 

Common treatment modalities used include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Breathwork
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness skills
  • Educational sessions

Over time, the person will learn how to cope with addiction triggers and prevent relapse, but they will also learn how to manage their mental health disorder symptoms. Learning how to cope with triggers and symptoms of mental health disorders will set them up for long-term sobriety that they can maintain on their own even after leaving the treatment facility. Treatment can continue in the form of outpatient programs or by the person going to support groups. There is no ending to recovery, but you can learn to live a happy, healthy, and sober life by undergoing the proper treatment.

Co-occurring disorders are a common part of addiction that is not discussed nearly as much as they should be. Because of this lack of discussion, many individuals struggling with co-occurring disorders are unaware of what kind of treatment they need. Overlooking the signs of a co-occurring disorder can cause the person to relapse later on because they haven’t been treated for a mental health disorder. By treating both addiction and a mental health disorder simultaneously, the individual can better maintain recovery for the long term. Alta Centers in Los Angeles, CA, is no stranger to co-occurring disorders. We can help you learn how to manage symptoms through a variety of treatment programs and modalities. Through a combination of traditional and holistic treatments, we are committed to finding treatment options that work for you and your recovery needs. Find your healing today by calling Alta Centers at (888) 202-2583. Let us help you begin your journey to recovery.

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