treatment for co-occurring disorders

7 Tips for Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental illness and substance abuse are both rampant in the US.

It’s said that 17.5 million people suffer from a mental illness. 4 million of those individuals have a comorbid dependency on drugs or alcohol.

Both mental illness and substance abuse have a significant negative impact at personal and societal levels in their own right. Together, that impact can worsen.

A complex relationship exists between these two conditions. It’s hard to know which came first, and one can reinforce the other. Poor mental health often begets substance misuse; substance misuse can sometimes result in poorer mental health.

The good news is that treatment for co-occurring disorders is absolutely possible. It’s just about getting the right support at the right time.

What treatment options are available for people experiencing such dual-diagnosis?

Keep reading to find out.

What’s a Co-Occurring Disorder?

A co-occurring disorder means that mental illness literally co-occurs with a substance abuse issue.

It is sometimes known as dual-diagnosis. The diagnosis doesn’t rely on a certain combination of mental illness and substance reliance. Be it schizophrenia with a marijuana habit; PTSD with heroin addiction, or depression with an alcohol dependency. All qualify as a co-occurring disorder.

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse

Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand in hand.

The relationship is complex. What came first? The mental illness, or substance abuse? Likewise, the two issues can often perpetuate each other. One reinforces the other.

It becomes difficult to disentangle one from the other. In some cases, it’s easier to figure out which came first. However, more often than not the two conditions become inextricable.

Consider a depressed individual with an alcohol dependency. Their depression develops and they turn to alcohol to relieve the symptoms. It works in the short term.

However, ever greater quantities are required to have the same effect. Not only will the alcohol act as a depressant, but their reliance on it can lead to shame and low self-esteem. The only antidote they know? More alcohol.

It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders: 7 Top Tips

It’s worth noting the frequent difficulty people with co-occurring disorders face.

Oftentimes they’ll go to a mental health facility to seek support for their mental condition and they’ll be told to sort their substance abuse out first. However, the drug and alcohol service turn around and say they need to sort their mental condition out first. The individual can be caught in the middle and never receive the support they need.

Thankfully, that isn’t always the case. There is definitely treatment available that can help.

Now let’s turn to 7 tips to help in the treatment of co-occurring disorders.

1. Begin With a Thorough Evaluation

Like all effective treatment, the right support for dual-diagnosis begins with a thorough evaluation.

A medical professional, often a psychiatrist, will sit down with you to discuss your individual situation. They may ask questions about your past, family history, how your symptoms present themselves and so on.

A solid understanding of your past and present is the only way to move forward positively.

2. Have an Individualized Care Plan

After your evaluation, the treatment team should formulate, with your input, an individualized care plan to address your personal needs.

Programs of support may be similar in treatment centers. However, your specific plan should be tailored to your needs.

3. Get Integrated Support

As we just alluded to, problems arise when mental health and recovery services operate independently.

In treatment for co-occurring disorders, these services are best integrated. This ensures the appropriate support is in place at all times.

4. Intensive Support Works Best

An intensive medical and therapeutic intervention will have the best effect.

Your particular treatment will likely incorporate individual therapy, with behavioral therapy alongside it. This combination will help address the psychiatric disorder while teaching the skills necessary to modify your behavioral patterns.

You’ll probably go through a period of rehabilitation and a 12-step program to support the substance misuse too.

5. Work in Groups

Group therapy can be an important part of any dual diagnosis treatment.

Mental ill-health and addiction can both feel like lonely experiences. Group therapy helps shatter this illusion. You are not alone. You’ll be surrounded by individuals with similar stories and experience. It’s often hard to feel understood in the outside world. Peer group support of this nature enables this to happen.

And you’ll be supported by a trained professional to help manage the situation.

6. Talk to Family and Friends

Having friends and family around can be hugely important in the treatment process.

Of course, not everyone will be fortunate enough to have such support. Those who do are encouraged to invite them for family education and counseling.

This will help them to understand the situation and promote better relationships, which can be of vital importance for sustaining wellbeing in the long term.

7. Try an Array of Treatment Approaches

Experiment with different treatment approaches.

There are many different types of therapies available now. Holistic therapies (such as meditation and art therapy) may have an unexpected positive impact. You may also have the chance to try equine therapy(working with horses).

Oftentimes it’s a matter of experimenting until you find the right fit for you.

Bonus Tip: Be Patient

Here’s a final point worth making: the process of recovery will have ups and downs.

There will be intensely emotional and physical challenges. A certain degree of patience will be required. But with time, ongoing support, and a well-thought-out after-care plan, you can see immense positive developments.

Time to Wrap Up

There you have it: advice for the treatment for co-occurring disorders, plus a look at what’s meant by the term.

A complex relationship exists between the two. Thankfully though, treatment is absolutely possible.

Hopefully, the information and tips above have been useful. Remember, any treatment should (and will) begin with a thorough evaluation by a professional. Individual treatment plans work best, and where possible, aim to attend a therapy center that integrates mental health and addiction support.

Adhere to an intensive treatment plan, work in groups, and include your social support networks where possible. Finally, be patient with the process of recovery, and kind to yourself throughout it.

Are you looking for support with an addiction?

Be sure to contact us now to find out how we can help with your recovery.

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.