Long before recovery, rehabs, and relocating to California, I suffered from crippling depression. I used to ask myself constantly, “Can a person go to rehab for depression?” As a child, sometimes getting out of bed seemed impossible. I remember summers spent indoor, watching as the rest of the world seemed to be in a frenzy; jumping from excitement to excitement while I stayed in bed until well after noon. The patterns of this would carry into my adult life, making tasks like work or school seem just as unlikely as going outside as a kid.

Eventually, through enough trial and error with drugs, alcohol, and failed attempts at getting a grip on my own mental health, I found a doctor whom I trusted and in turn listened to. I was prescribed a few different medications for depression before one finally helped. It was a slow process, but eventually I noticed a difference in my mood and my quality of life. I was skeptical of medication, and I was skeptical that there could be any underlying issues other than drug and alcohol abuse. For many alcoholics and addicts, there’s usually what is referred to as a co-occurring disorder, or a separate issue that may add to the symptoms of another disorder or disease. Quite often, Alcoholics and drug addicts self medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to treat the symptoms of a different disorder; like anxiety or depression.

The stigma associated with mental illness is still alive and well today. Unfortunately, most addicts and alcoholics suffer from some form of mental illness. Whether it’s bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, or depression, mental illness is an underlying issue for most addicts and alcoholics.

What is Mental Illness?


Much like a physical illness, a mental illness can develop as either hereditary or from environmental factors like abuse or neglect. A mental illness is any disorder that affects the range of thoughts, mood, or behavior. Most commonly, anxiety and depression account for the majority of mental illnesses in recovery. When first diagnosed, this may seem like a shock or perhaps appear to be a mistake. After all, this doctor doesn’t know you, right?

Accepting A Diagnosis

It’s important to be honest while meeting with your doctor. Ideally, a diagnosis would be made after having been off of drugs for at least a month. However, there are patterns related to certain disorders and illnesses that are common characteristics of that particular illness. Only you will know in your heart whether or not the diagnosis seems correct. In any case, a mental illness diagnosis is not the end of the world. In fact, most artists and musicians have suffered from some form of mental illness at one time of their lives. Mental illness and drug addiction usually go hand in hand, as the addict and alcoholic seemingly try to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. Much like the first step of addiction, the first step in recovery from a mental illness is accepting the diagnosis.


Asking your doctor questions about your mental illness is extremely important also. From medication management to avoiding stressors, your doctor is the best person to ask and develop a plan of recovery with to insure that you can lead a happy and healthy life. When I was diagnosed with major depression, I didn’t know that exercise and a healthy diet along with medication could actually help me to avoid depressive swings. Minor things like blood sugar and releasing endorphins that seem so obvious we’re a world away until I asked my doctor whom I trusted. Meditation also became a regular practice of mine, as recommended by my therapist.

Talk About It

From group and private therapy to Emotions Anonymous meetings, whatever you’re going through doesn’t have to be done alone. In fact, the World Health Organization states that over 350 million people in the world suffer from depression. Although it might seem like a dark diagnosis, there are many other people who have gone through similar experiences. As you’ve learned in recovery from drugs and alcohol, you don’t have to go through anything alone anymore.

Don’t Give Up

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, you aren’t alone. This isn’t a death sentence or a prison stint. There are precautions you can take to protect yourself from severe episodes and there are people everywhere who are going through a similar experience. While medication can have side effects, working with a doctor or care team that you trust is a great step in protecting yourself from having your mental illness get out of control. The stigma around mental health is outdated and currently only a screen to protect the accusers from being found that they or their loved ones suffer from the same disorders. The biggest stigma is against untreated mental health disorders, and is both sad and preventable. By looking after your mental health with the same compassion as you would a sick child, you may begin to see just how strong you are and how manageable life is with a mental illness when the proper measures are taken. The stigma of having a mental illness is one that comes from fear and a lack of insight. By educating yourself, trusting your doctor, and talking about it, you’ll in time shed light on something that is totally manageable and treatable, much like alcoholism and drug addiction.

If you’re diagnosed with a mental illness of any sort, knowing that there is treatment and support available can seem like a huge safety net. Many of us in recovery have a duel diagnosis, and many of us lead happy, healthy, and successful lives. Talk to your doctor and therapist about what treatment and support options are available for you. Education is the best defense against a mental illness, as it will open up various doors for treatment and support groups. There’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness, as many of us in recovery have had to battle our demons at one point or another. Please contact us if you or your loved one is suffering from a mental illness.

Holistic Wellness Programs for Treating Addiction and Mental Illness

Philosophers often discuss the difference between “being” and “well-being.” In order to simply “be,” a person or thing must have certain qualities or attributes that define its core essence. These features describe the subject’s basic existence, but they do not address what is necessary to thrive or flourish.

Many treatment facilities tout the core treatments that provide clients with the means to attain sobriety. But there are additional components necessary to help someone achieve the benefits of a happy, healthy life experience.

These benefits address much more than the cessation of problems that led them to treatment in the first place. Instead, they address the broader considerations that make up a fulfilled life and contribute to the person’s “well-being” and not just their “being.”

It is essential for people in recovery to understand and improve all the different parts of their existence, so they can consciously build better lives.

Understanding and Defining Holistic Wellness

“Wellness” is a term that comes up frequently in certain circles, and the term can be used in many ways. Although there are multiple views on exactly what the concept encompasses, the National Wellness Institute, in conjunction with leaders of varying health and wellness fields, has suggested that most models of wellness agree upon the following principles:

  • Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.
  • Wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual aspects and the environment.
  • Wellness is positive and affirming.

With these principles in mind, the NWI proposes that, “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of and make choices toward a more successful existence.”1

Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of and make choices toward a more successful existence.

Wrapping all of this together, we can define “holistic wellness” as the condition of being in optimum overall health, which is a blend of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The condition is the result of consciously choosing to live a quality life; it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a day-to-day choice involving an active process of increasing self-awareness, as well as community-supported, self-directed action.

What Are Holistic Wellness Programs?

The goal of holistic health is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning in the best way possible. The path of holistic wellness is a life-long journey that emphasizes personal responsibility and commitment.

The path of holistic wellness is a life-long journey that emphasizes personal responsibility and commitment.

Without specific ways to work toward this goal, people would flounder without any ability to truly make progress. That’s where holistic wellness programs come in.

Holistic wellness programs are an essential part of any well-rounded recovery program. These programs comprise the methods that give people the tools to feel more whole as human beings. The features of holistic wellness programs are designed to take into account the entire person as they move forward in their quest for optimal health and wholeness.

Specific program components may include things like individual therapy, meditation, mindfulness and yoga, which promote positive attitudes and teach practical methods for coping with stressful situations. One may also learn about healthy nutrition, the importance of regular physical exercise and other helpful life practices, such as journaling.

Yoga – Posing for Wellness

Yoga is a technique that uses physical postures and controlled breathing to develop many mental and physical benefits.2The postures used in yoga practice are sometimes difficult to achieve or hold, but the purpose goes far beyond merely becoming a human pretzel.

The challenging poses and movements of yoga help create flexibility and strength as they elongate the spine, improve muscle elasticity, reduce stiffness in the joints and increase overall mobility. The focus required during practice also calms the mind, improves concentration and promotes patience. Regular practice is needed to fully experience these benefits.

For those in recovery, yoga offers some specific advantages. For example, many addictions begin as a coping mechanism or a way of filling an emotional or spiritual void. As a result, people in treatment for addiction must learn to deal with their emotions and environment in healthier ways.

Studies of the biological impact of yoga have noted a correlation between yoga and inhibiting the dopamine surge that typically results from using drugs. The studies found that intense breathing patterns in certain forms of yoga release the body’s natural pleasure-producing endorphins. A healthy yoga practice can help suppress addictive behaviors while restoring the brain’s dopamine functions to healthier levels.

Those in recovery know full well that stressful situations can trigger addictive behavior and cravings. The very process of adjusting to sober living can be stressful. Since yoga emphasizes willpower and stress reduction, those in recovery can learn to combat that stress, better resist temptation and regain control over their bodies.

Since yoga emphasizes willpower and stress reduction, those in recovery can learn to combat that stress, better resist temptation and regain control over their bodies.

Meditation – Doing Something Good for Yourself

Meditation is not an esoteric, mystical exercise best left for ascetic monks. Although there are numerous forms of meditation practice arising from various historic traditions, most of them share a simple common principle: intentionally setting aside time to do something good for yourself.

Meditation involves intentionally setting aside time to do something good for yourself.

That may seem like an oversimplification, but it accurately describes the underlying purpose of meditative practices. Whether the form of meditation incorporates bodily movement or is stationary, both emphasize the good that results from quietness of the mind.

The primary goal of developing a sense of inner calm, sometimes called detachment, enables meditation to fit well within the recovery process. This is because overcoming substance abuse disorders often involves a person establishing distance between themselves and their desire to use.

Meditation encourages the practitioner to view their own impulses from a third-person perspective, as they observe and examine their own thoughts and motivations. This is not always easy, but the skill will enable them to gain a psychological detachment from their cravings, along with the ability to properly understand such desires. This helps cultivate contentedness without the need to resort to alcohol or drug abuse.

While the full benefits from meditation may take time, neuroscientists have found that even short-term meditation can have profoundly positive effects on the brain. In one study, after just five 20-minute sessions of meditative technique, participants had increased blood flow to an area of the brain vital to self-control. After 11 hours of accumulated practice, the scientists found actual physical changes in the brain around this same area.3

By building a stronger awareness of themselves and their environment, people in recovery can realize the impact drugs and alcohol have had on their lives and start to discover their triggers. Meditation fosters an appreciation for the mind and body, which builds motivation to treat oneself with respect.

Meditation fosters an appreciation for the mind and body, which builds motivation to treat oneself with respect.

Mindfulness – Moment-by-Moment Awareness

Mindfulness can be a form of meditation, but it is worth distinguishing here in our overview of holistic wellness. Mindfulness-based interventions have shown compelling evidence of significant benefit for people in recovery from addictive disorders.

Though it has roots in Buddhist meditation, the common secular practice of mindfulness was established through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, which was launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.

In its most basic definition, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance of thoughts and feelings without judging them. By removing the tendency to determine what is “right” or “wrong” with a certain thought or feeling, a person is more able to concentrate on what they’re sensing in the moment, rather than comparing it with the past or imagining the future.

Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.

Thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. Because the practice promotes nonjudgmental acceptance of moment-to-moment thoughts, mindfulness has been shown to interrupt the tendency to respond to experiences using harmful behaviors, such as substance use. As the individual learns to respond with awareness and not to react automatically, they are also more likely to resist cravings.4

For individuals in recovery, the struggle with temptations toward drugs or alcohol is inevitable. Mindfulness meditation is one way to gain awareness of these thoughts, accept them without feelings of guilt or shame and learn how to cope in healthier ways.

Physical Fitness – Strong Body and Mind

It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for the body. But physical exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve mental health. Exercise has a profound and positive impact upon symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD and more. In addition to boosting overall mood, exercise relieves stress, improves memory and helps people sleep better.

In addition to boosting overall mood, exercise relieves stress, improves memory and helps people sleep better.

But don’t worry, there’s no need to become a hardcore fitness devotee. Research indicates that even modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference, as evidenced by the popularity of such things as the scientific 7-minute workout.5

No matter what fitness plan or routine one may settle into, there are definitely worthwhile rewards for the efforts. Here are some outstanding examples of the mental health benefits of exercise:6

  • Reduce Stress. Working out can relieve physical and mental tension and increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Regular exercise keeps energy flowing throughout the body, which enhances its stress reducing properties.
  • Boost Happy Chemicals. Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among people suffering from depression or anxiety due to increased levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
  • Improve Self-Confidence. Physical fitness boosts self-esteem and improves self-image. Regardless of a person’s particular physique, even moderate exercise can quickly elevate self-perception and self-worth. Engaging in a competitive sport, or just setting your own fitness goals leads to feelings of accomplishment, which also improve feelings of self-confidence.
  • Prevent Cognitive Decline. While it won’t stop the aging process, exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. Science has found that people who exercise have sharper cognitive functioning and better ability to concentrate.
  • Alleviate Anxiety. During and after exercise, chemicals released in the body can help people with anxiety disorders calm down even more effectively than a 20-minute soak in the hot tub. The anxiety-reducing effects of even just a brisk daily walk can be highly beneficial to individuals in recovery.
  • Boost Brainpower. More than merely preventing decline, studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Some studies show that the brain volume in those who exercise regularly is greater than in those who do not.
  • Regular workouts increase levels of a protein known as BDNF. This is believed to help with the executive functions of the brain, such as decision making, higher thinking and learning.
  • Sharpen Memory. Regular physical activity enhances the ability to learn new things. Research has linked brain development with levels of physical fitness, and one study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.
  • Help Control Addiction. Dopamine, which is known as the brain’s “reward chemical,” is released in response to any form of pleasure, including sex, drugs, alcohol or food. One aspect of addiction involves dependency on the substances that produce dopamine. But exercise can help in recovery, since working out can effectively diminish and distract from cravings, while providing a new, healthy reward pathway.
  • Increase Relaxation and Improve Sleep. Often those in recovery find their body processes are interrupted, including circadian or sleep rhythms. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, enabling people to relax and have more regular sleep cycles. Those who get a higher quality of sleep tend to function better during their daytime activities, have a more positive frame of mind, and have better emotional self-regulation.
  • Get More Done. Those who exercise regularly have been shown to have higher energy levels, which leads to greater productivity. Sedentary people tire more easily and quickly, leaving less mojo for work and play. Exercise increases stamina and strength, increasing energy levels that benefit the individual throughout the day.

Journaling – Insights for Life

Journaling is an effective tool with widespread use among those recovering from an addiction. It has been called the least expensive, most accessible form of therapy, and it can produce meaningful results for those who take advantage of it for gaining insights into their own life.

Keeping a journal is straightforward; it requires writing down brief thoughts, ideas, observations, stories, important events, successes during recovery or even a simple record of an exercise routine.

There are numerous methods and styles of journaling, and each person can adopt an approach that fits their personality and schedule. There’s no need to be verbose; even a single word that captures a feeling or mood can provide powerful insights, which lead to better understanding and discernment.

Writing in a journal encourages people to think critically and examine their thoughts and assumptions. Clearer thinking helps overcome negativity, reduces stress and may even lower the risk of relapse. Journaling is also a way to track progress and increase motivation. Journals are private expressions, recorded without fear of judgment.

Journaling also helps with stress relief. Just putting down on paper the emotions being experienced in recovery can give them a place to reside, other than rattling around in one’s head. Think of journaling as a repository for thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and goals. A place to safely unload all the things that might be taking up too much space in one’s head.

Writing in a journal encourages people to think critically and examine their thoughts and assumptions.

The point is not the subject of the writing or the amount of writing. Instead, it’s about taking the time to write and engage in personal introspection. After journaling for a few months, many are amazed when they look back to see where they were and where they are now. In some cases, they are encouraged by how far they’ve come. Other times they may be surprised to find they’re revisiting old habits.7

Holistic Individual Therapy – Building Skills for the Future

Recovery and rehabilitation frequently involves therapy. Holistic therapy takes an integrated approach and pays attention to the connections between a person’s mind, body and spirit.

Unlike some forms of therapy, which seek to treat the symptoms, holistic therapy sessions try to uncover the underlying causes that led to substance abuse or contributed to other unhealthy behaviors. Holistic therapists use multiple approaches to address issues and encourage self-awareness and self-acceptance in those in recovery.

One such therapy is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). This is a type of CBT that utilizes the mindfulness training so important in cultivating a healthy mind-body connection. MBCT is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness stress reduction program, and has been found useful in treating individuals in addiction recovery. MBCT combines the concepts of CBT, which involve reframing dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to self-destructive behaviors, with meditative practices.

Holistic therapists use multiple approaches to address issues and encourage self-awareness and self-acceptance in those in recovery.

Counselors or therapists typically provide a variety of services to people in treatment for substance use disorders, including assessment, treatment planning and counseling. Individual counseling often focuses on reducing or stopping substance use, skill building, adherence to a recovery plan and social, family and professional/educational outcomes.8

Nutrition Education – Fueling the Healing Process

Improper nutrition can severely hinder the normal functioning of the body, including its ability to heal and overcome illness. Drugs and alcohol can further amplify the disruptive effects of a poor diet. Improving nutrition is essential for diminishing and correcting some of the biochemical and digestive problems often developed during addiction.9

Improving nutrition is essential for diminishing and correcting some of the biochemical and digestive problems often developed during addiction.

Proper nutrition helps those in recovery (and everyone else) feel better because nutrients give the body energy, help build and repair organ tissue and strengthen the immune system. Many people experience damage to vital organs, as well as nutritional deficiencies, during the course of their drug or alcohol abuse. Establishing good nutrition provides them with the crucial building blocks needed to begin restoring the damage to the brain and the body.

Mood and attitude are also affected by nutrition. Changes in the diet can alter brain structure both chemically and physiologically, thus influencing behavior. Certain foods have been connected to increased production of brain chemicals like serotonin, which enhances a person’s mood.

Using healthy food and regular meals to fuel the healing process is an important strategy for reaching optimal well-being and energizing the recovery process. In many cases, just feeling better due to proper diet can even reduce the risk of relapse, since the temptations may have less appeal.

Examples of nutritious meal options that enhance both psychological and physical healing and wellbeing include:

  • Lean protein sources
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Whole grains
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes

Limiting caffeine, sugary beverages, sugary treats, and processed foods will also improve overall health.

Other Holistic Activities

Any activity that fosters feelings of serenity will benefit someone in recovery. Adding these activities into the weekly or daily wellness routine can augment the effects of psychotherapy and other recovery activities. Holistic activities help to cement the positive effects of sobriety by providing ongoing coping tools that can be accessed as needed.

Other holistic activities or therapies might include:

  • Massage therapy. A relaxation massage helps muscles release the toxins that build up in the body due to daily stress and worry
  • Acupuncture. The use of tiny needles on specific areas of the body help open up blocked energy, leading to stress reduction and reduced cravings
  • Equine therapy. Being involved in the care, feeding, and exercising of a horse is an excellent source of accountability, leading to improved self-confidence. Bonding with a horse is also deeply satisfying on an emotional level
  • Gardening therapy. Being outdoors provides sun exposure that translates to increased vitamin D, which benefits mood. The process of cultivating plants, vegetables, or flowers is rewarding, giving one a sense of accomplishment
  • Aromatherapy. Essential oils can be used topically or inhaled through vapors to induce relaxation and reduce stress
  • Hypnotherapy. A hypnotherapist can guide the individual toward changing negative thoughts and replacing them with affirming thoughts and behaviors
  • Guided meditation. These audio files are available on apps or downloads and offer a soothing voice to guide one into a meditative state, which induces relaxation.

Bringing It All Together

Hopefully, this overview of holistic wellness programs was encouraging and highlighted the many benefits of such an approach to recovery. But more than as just a means to recovery, programs focused on holistic wellness bring together the tools and knowledge for lifelong preventative and restorative health solutions. This provides the essentials for achieving a healthy body and mind, allowing each person to take responsibility for their own well-being as they progress in their recovery journey.


  1. Six Dimensions of Wellness. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nationalwellness.org
  2. Pizer, A. (2016, April). What is Yoga? Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/what-is-yoga-3566739
  3. Tang, Y.; Lu, Q.; Geng, X.; Stein, E. A.; Yang, Y. and Posner, M. I. (2010, August). Short-term Meditation Induces White Matter Changes in the Anterior Cingulate. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/107/35/15649.full
  4. Marcus, M. T. and Zgierska, A. (2009). Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders: Part 1. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 263. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1080/08897070903250027
  5. Reynolds, G. (2013, May). The Scientific 7-Minute Workout. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout
  6. Breene, S. (2013, March). 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mental-health-benefits-exercise_n_2956099.html
  7. Howes, R. (2011, January). Journaling in Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/201101/journaling-in-therapy
  8. Treatment for Substance Abuse Disorders. (2015, September). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/substance-use-disorders
  9. Miller, R. (2010, May). Nutrition in Addiction Recovery. Retrieved from http://mhof.net/sites/default/files/Addiction%20and%20Recovery%20Report.pdf
Holistic Wellness Yoga

Those who have ever taken a yoga class know firsthand the sense of calmness and well-being that follows, and they’ve probably experienced the sensation of lightness in the muscles brought on by long, gentle stretches. The health benefits are well-documented, but its benefits for those in addiction recovery go far beyond improving physical health.

Any high-quality treatment program will take a holistic approach to treatment that addresses issues of body, mind and spirit. At Elevation Behavioral Health, yoga is an integral part of our program because it strengthens and soothes body, mind and spirit, promotes mindfulness, reduces stress and fosters good physical and mental health.

Yoga and Mindfulness

Yoga brings the mind and body into the present, where focus is on what’s happening in the here and now. How does the body feel? What is the state of mind? What emotions are present? Being in tune with one’s physical and mental state is the cornerstone of mindfulness, and practices in mindfulness, including yoga, are fast becoming proven therapies for preventing relapse, according to an article published in the journal Substance Abuse.

Mindful recovery is all about being aware of thoughts and attitudes, accepting them as they arise, observing them non-judgmentally, and learning to reshape them. Practicing mindfulness through yoga can help people in recovery navigate cravings, make healthy lifestyle choices and—perhaps most importantly—recognize the early signs of relapse.

Stress Relief

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, stress is a major trigger for relapse. Stress and the body’s response to it can be mitigated through yoga practice, according to Harvard Medical School, which cites a study that shows it helps to reduce the body’s stress responses like muscle tension and increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Yoga can even help the body learn to respond to stress in healthier ways.

Mental and Physical Health

Regular yoga practice bolsters the immune system and improves overall health, according to a study published in the International Journal of Yoga. It strengthens the muscles, and it improves flexibility and promotes balance of mind and spirit. A healthy body is central to long-term recovery, as is a healthy mind. Yoga can help improve mental health by relieving anxiety and depression, enhancing a sense of self and helping to heal emotional wounds, according to the American Psychological Association. This can be particularly helpful for those whose addiction is rooted in trauma.

A Holistic Approach to Treatment is Best

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points out that everyone’s pathway to recovery is different, and a holistic approach to treatment should include a variety of research-based alternative and complementary therapies. As one of a number of holistic therapies offered through our program, yoga can help individuals in recovery develop a higher level of self-awareness, improve self-esteem and foster other healthy lifestyle choices that can improve the chances of successful long-term recovery.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders

When someone who suffers from a mental health disorder also has a substance abuse problem, they have what is called co-occurring disorders, also commonly called dual diagnosis.

Co-occurring disorders could come about as an individual with mental illness subsequently develops a dependency on drugs or alcohol as they seek relief from unpleasant psychiatric symptoms. It could also happen when someone who has a substance abuse disorder then develops mental health disorders from the changes in the brain’s chemistry and structure that addiction can cause.

Typically, it’s difficult to determine which condition came first. Either way, all conditions need treatment at the same time for effective results. Many different variations exist with co-occurring disorders.

Common Co-Occurring Disorders and Addiction

Eating Disorders and Addiction

The brain is stimulated by pleasurable activities. Using drugs and alcohol can stimulate the same reward center of the brain, producing pleasurable effects. Gratifying stimulation comes from eating and enjoying food, and that experience can also block any unwanted, negative feelings and emotions. When pursuit of gratification to avoid negative feelings increases, an addictive cycle develops.

When food or the denial of food is the stimulus, it can lead to eating disorders such as bingeing or anorexia. People in this type of cycle frequently incorporate illicit substances to get the same stimulation, leading to the development of co-occurring disorders.

Depression and Addiction

Depression is found to be a common mental health issue among substance abusers. People who are depressed often use drugs and/or alcohol to block painful thoughts, memories and emotions.

On the other hand, people who frequently drink alcohol—a depressive substance—may bring on sadness as alcohol affects the brain with its depressive properties. Unfortunately, depression and substance abuse feed upon one another, which creates a continuing cycle of both.

OCD and Addiction

It is currently thought that OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. There are theories that this imbalance of brain chemicals also causes alcoholism and drug abuse, so the two are tightly interrelated. OCD sufferers also use substances for relief from obsessive thoughts, and regular use can lead to the development of addictions.

PTSD and Addiction

People who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) experienced traumatic events. Difficult symptoms from PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, sleeplessness, mood instability and paranoia. Many PTSD sufferers turn to readily available drugs or alcohol for relief and to numb themselves.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Proper treatment from trained professionals helps people suffering from co-occurring disorders to reach sobriety and manage psychiatric symptoms, opening up a healthy and productive life made possible by effective and comprehensive addiction programs.

Psychopharmacology: Medication is needed to treat any remaining psychiatric symptoms once detox is completed.

Psychotherapy: Group and individual therapies are needed to address mental health and addiction issues at the same time.

Behavioral Management: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches coping skills for how to respond to negative thoughts and actions. It teaches individuals to replace negative behaviors with positive ones, and rewards are given for positive actions. CBT has been proven effective in modifying addictive behaviors.

What is Dual Diagnosis in Mental Health

What is Dual Diagnosis

When a person has a substance abuse problem and also has accompanying mental health issues, this is known as a dual diagnosis. Also known as co-existing disorders, a person might find themselves chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol while also experiencing a disorder like depression, anxiety, or bipolar.

Addiction specialists need to discover all co-existing disorders to ensure a comprehensive dual diagnosis is reached. After complete identification, rehab programs need to treat all issues for successful recovery.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports:

  • A third of people with mental illness and half of people living with severe mental illnesses also have substance abuse problems.
  • A third of all alcohol abusers have been diagnosed with a co-existing mental illness.
  • More than half of all drug abusers have been diagnosed with a co-existing mental illness.

Dual Diagnosis Signs & Symptoms

Since dual diagnosis is a mental health and substance abuse disorder occurring simultaneously, there are many combinations of disorders that exist. The symptoms of dual diagnosis vary widely. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Sudden behavioral changes
  • Using substances under unsafe conditions
  • Acting out risky behaviors while under the influence
  • Loss of control over using substances
  • Doing things out of character to obtain drugs or alcohol
  • Developing tolerance to substances
  • Relapsing on substances after treatment
  • Legal problems
  • Showing withdrawal symptoms from substances
  • Feeling like drugs or alcohol are needed to function
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Confused thinking
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Thoughts of suicide

Diagnosis of Co-Occurring Disorders

To properly diagnose dual disorders in a person, a professional performs an assessment that details the signs and symptoms being experienced. Since symptoms of substance abuse can mimic the signs of mental health disorders and vice versa, it might take a few days or weeks of observation before an accurate assessment can be made.

The following methods are used to evaluate and diagnose addiction and mental health disorders:

  • Interviewing the client, family and friends about past and current psychiatric symptoms and substance use.
  • Conducting lab tests to detect the presence and quantity of drugs or alcohol that are currently in the body.
  • Holding a physical exam and/or lab tests to look for any physical problems that could cause psychiatric symptoms.
  • Completing a checklist regarding alcohol or drug use, psychiatric history and health.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Disorders

Treatment for dual diagnosis is usually a program of medication, therapy and behavioral counseling. All disorders must be treated at the same time to be effective and to prevent relapse.

There are several treatments available for dual diagnosis: psychopharmacology, psychotherapy and behavioral therapy.

Psychopharmacology treats each disorder with prescription medications. Ongoing assessments are made to track the effectiveness of treatment of each disorder.

Psychotherapy uses counselors and therapists to help resolve mental or emotional problems by discussion. Root causes of substance abuse and trauma are uncovered and analyzed.

Behavioral therapy examines behaviors, focusing on the negative consequences and harmful effects. Positive behaviors are developed to avoid these negative consequences using improved judgements. Positive and negative reinforcements are used to foster better decisions.

Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness

Drug addiction is a complex issue, and so is mental illness. Both disorders display serious and persistent symptoms.

When the best treatment options are being decided, it’s crucial that all issues are included. An addiction treatment program that addresses all these points results in effective recovery and helps to prevent relapse.

The Effects of Addiction on the Brain

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction can be considered a mental illness in and of itself because using substances causes fundamental brain changes.

The results of these brain changes alter the priorities of the person suffering from addiction. After addiction has taken hold, obtaining and using drugs or alcohol becomes the person’s main priority. Compulsive behaviors—those with little impulse control—dominate the person’s life without regard to the resulting consequences, which is one indication of mental illness.

The Relationship of Addiction and Mental Health Issues

Research has shown that most people who abuse drugs or alcohol also have mental health issues, and the reverse is true as well.

  • People who have anxiety or mood disorders are twice as likely to also have a substance abuse disorder.
  • People with mental health disorders, such as antisocial or conduct disorders, are also twice as likely to have addiction problems.
  • People with substance abuse problems are also twice as likely to suffer from mental health disorders like mood and anxiety disorders.

Some areas of the brain are affected by both substance abuse and other mental illnesses. One affected area is the pathways that are used by neurotransmitters. Since common areas of the brain are affected by addictive substances, they may also be involved in mental health disorders like depression.

Drug Addiction Treatment Options

The first and most important step in addiction programs is to evaluate a client to understand all the mental health issues, besides addiction, that are present and need treatment. Many individuals need qualified help for alcohol withdrawal symptoms, as alcohol detox can be quite dangerous. A comprehensive assessment by trained professionals is needed to do this.

People entering addiction treatment programs need screening for additional mental health issues. Also, people entering mental health treatment need screening by trained healthcare professionals to uncover any substance use disorders.

Once all the symptoms a person is experiencing are diagnosed, it’s crucial to treat all disorders at the same time. Substance abuse and mental health disorder symptoms are typically persistent and resist treatment in someone with co-existing disorders, so a plan of treatment that recognizes this will be most effective.

Finding the Right Help

Drug Addiction treatment plans that will be most effective include:

Medications: Using medicines that are effective in the treatment of substance abuse and mental health issues. Sometimes these medications will help multiple problems.
Behavioral Therapies: Behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy that modify behaviors, when used alone or with a medication program, have proven to be effective in helping clients with co-occurring disorders.

Finding the most effective treatment involves multiple approaches. This creates a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program that supports clients who are struggling with addiction to reach sobriety, and it helps to prevent relapse.

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse Is There A Link

Studies indicate that between forty and seventy percent of those with bipolar disorder also have a current or previous history of substance abuse. Compared with those without a co-occurring disorder, those with co-occurring illnesses may derive less benefit from treatment for their mood disorder, recover more slowly from episodes, spend more time in hospitals and have higher risks for suicide than those without a dual diagnosis.

These facts demonstrate the importance of considering both the bipolar disorder and any substance use disorder when determining the best treatment and management strategy.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic mood swings that can go from elated and joyful to sad and hopeless, often with normal mood periods in between. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression. Along with these mood swing episodes, bipolar disorder also causes severe changes in energy and behavior.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be quite severe, and they are not the same as normal ups and downs that everyone experiences from time to time. For those dealing with bipolar disorder, the symptoms make it very difficult to engage in everyday life. This can result in damaged relationships, diminished performance at school or work and even suicide.

Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

It is difficult to explain the high rate of substance abuse and among individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, and there are numerous factors involved.

One contributing factor may be that many individuals attempt to self-medicate to reduce the troubling symptoms of their bipolar disorder. Rather than experience anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and pain, some turn to drugs and alcohol to temporarily escape.

An individual’s age and gender may also play a role, according to some research. For example, based on a study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders, drug abuse is more common in young men with bipolar than in females or older age groups. However, alcoholism is seven times higher among women with bipolar disorder than among the general population.

Clinical researchers are studying additional factors that influence both mental illness and substance abuse, including the effects of brain chemistry on both.

In individuals with bipolar disorder, there are often abnormal levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals affect numerous bodily functions and directly contribute to one’s mood and emotions. Drugs and alcohol further interfere with the how the brain processes these chemicals, causing even more severe emotional instability, erratic energy levels and depression.

It is unclear whether the mental disorder is causing people to turn to drugs or alcohol out of an unconscious need to stabilize their moods, or whether the substance abuse is triggering or intensifying the symptoms of the disorder. But whatever the precise nature of the link, substance abuse has a detrimental effect and makes the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse.

Treatment Options

Regardless of which came first, bipolar disorder or substance abuse, effective treatment necessarily involves addressing both problems. There are varying approaches to treating a dual diagnosis, depending upon the specific needs of the individual. According to Mayo Clinic, finding an effective treatment may include:

  • Initial treatment. It is vital to work with a doctor or other professional who can prescribe medications to balance your moods. Once the symptoms of bipolar are under control, you’ll be better able to determine the best long-term treatment.
  • Ongoing treatment. Because of the underlying causes of bipolar disorder, it requires lifelong treatment, even when you’re feeling better. Maintenance treatment may involve medications, psychological counseling and education or support groups.
  • Substance abuse treatment. If there are problems with alcohol or drugs, substance abuse treatment is essential. In some cases, this issue must be dealt with first, before effective treatment of bipolar disorder is possible.
  • Hospitalization. If your symptoms are particularly severe, hospitalization may be recommended. This is important if you’re behaving dangerously, feel suicidal or become detached from reality. Psychiatric treatment can help keep you safe while stabilizing your mood.
Depression and Alcoholism Co-Occurring Disorders

There are many reasons why individuals suffer from alcoholism, and genetics, environmental factors and mental health issues are just a few explanations. Co-occurring disorders occur when an individual suffers from both a mental health issue and an addiction. Though they are completely treatable, co-occurring disorders are especially delicate and require integrated clinical therapy to achieve lasting results. >/p>

Depression Statistics

Nearly a third of individuals who suffer from major depressive disorder also suffer from alcoholism. Though it can be hard to determine with certainty, in many cases the depression is present before the addiction takes place.

These numbers are compounded by the fact that 10 percent of Americans experience depression, yet more than 80 percent of those who deal with depression go undiagnosed and untreated. In the absence of professional treatment, it’s not uncommon for those suffering in silence to deepen their relationship with alcohol.

Negative Feedback Loops

Whether alcoholism is caused by depression or vice versa varies on a case-by-case scenario, but what remains the same is the impact that the two have on one another. For an individual struggling with alcoholism and depression, the negative feedback loop is self-perpetuating.

A person drinks in an attempt to feel better, only to find that the relief is merely temporary, if at all. This may lead to further attempts to self-medicate by drinking larger amounts with more frequency. Through this process, depression compounds these factors, leading the individual to quickly descend into addiction.

Social Consequences

The seemingly endless cycle of addiction has residual social repercussions as well. Many times people find themselves not caring about anything outside of their addiction. They may be unwilling to speak with others, show up at work or do anything that might interfere with their drinking routine. The inability to listen to reason, combined with disconnection from the world around them, produces a potent fertilizer in which depression, anxiety and addiction can grow.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Quitting cold turkey can not only be ineffective, it can be dangerous. Receiving help from certified professionals through a medically supervised detox program will greatly increase chances of recovery and decrease the dangers that come along with detoxing.

Trained specialists look at the root of the addiction and mental health issue and treat them both from the very start—healing both mind and body. Peoplecan learn new ways to cope with their mental health issues and begin to discover the potential that they may have thought was gone forever.

Types of Therapy

Many dual-diagnosis treatment facilities go beyond conventional individual and group therapy, giving individuals the chance to get to know themselves again through activities like art, yoga, exercise and music. When administered effectively and adhered to, therapy can help resolve co-occurring disorders and give people suffering from addiction the tools they need to overcome obstacles in a healthy and positive way.

Anyone who is suffering from alcoholism or who may be developing a drinking problem shouldn’t wait to treat these issues. The more time that passes, the more difficult it will be to break the negative feedback loop.