A co-occurring disorder is when a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder coexist. A co-occurring disorder can often be difficult to diagnose due to their complexity as well as the differentiation in symptoms depending on the mental health disorder and substance of choice.
For instance, a loved one who suffers from prescription drug abuse and major depressive disorder may have very different symptoms than someone who suffers from a heroin addiction and schizophrenia. Co-occurring disorders are treatable, but treatment is not effective unless both the addiction and mental disorder are addressed.
5 Signs Your Loved One Has a Co-Occurring Disorder
If you believe you or a loved one may show signs of a co-occurring disorder, here are some warning signs to help make sure they get the right kind of treatment for their needs.
Inability to maintain functional relationships or employment
If your loved one has had trouble keeping a job or you have noticed substance abuse coming between them and their social relationships, they could have problems with a co-occurring disorder. While having a severe drug or alcohol addiction can already cause difficulties with relationships and employment, having both a substance abuse problem, as well as a severe mental disorder, can make these difficulties even more prominent. The two disorders combined can also increase feelings of social isolation and withdrawal.
Legal problems due to drug or alcohol abuse
The combination of an addiction to drugs or alcohol along with a mental disorder can make you much more likely to have trouble with the law, as the symptoms of each disorder are heightened as a result from the other. The mental disorder can increase the impulse for the substance of choice, therefore influencing you to get the substance by any means. The substance abuse also can worsen the psychological symptoms of the mental disorder, therefore making you more prone to disorderly or violent behavior.
Extreme mood swings and lack of emotional control
Mood swings from manic to severely depressive states are strongly characteristic of someone with a mental disorder such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. The addition of substance abuse with a mental disorder can escalate the mood swings dramatically.
Relying on alcohol or drugs to get through difficult events or social situations
Mental disorders that involve severe anxiety in social situations can involve substance abuse in cases of anxiety-inducing social situations or difficult life events to help them cope. Treatment could be needed for a co-occurring disorder if your loved one appears to depend on alcohol or drugs to get through certain situations that make them nervous or anxious.
Drug use or alcohol use to numb feelings of anxiety or sadness
It’s not uncommon for those suffering from severe depression to attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to make them feel better. However, with continued and increased use, you can easily become dependent on the substance and become addicted. If you see increased signs of substance use in these cases, your loved one may need specialized treatment for a co-occurring disorder.
Drug Addiction Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders
Someone who suffers from a co-occurring disorder needs to receive specialized treatment that addresses both the addiction and mental sides in order to completely recover. If not correctly treated, the combination of disorders makes them more susceptible to relapse of substance use or worsening of the psychiatric disorder. The Discovery House will assess both sides of the disorder, and will enroll those with a co-occurring disorder in a treatment program that integrates both addiction therapy and mental health treatment.