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.