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The Common Experience of Co-Occurring Disorders

It’s common for those with addiction to also have a psychological illness. In fact, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 45% of people with an addiction also had another form of mental illness. When someone struggles with an addiction as well as another psychological illness, it is sometimes referred to as having co-occurring disorders. Others might refer to it as having a dual diagnosis.

Other mental illnesses that can co-exist with substance addiction are

It might seem obvious that substance abuse addictions and mental illnesses can go hand in hand. It might be easy to imagine that someone experiencing symptoms of depression, for example, might want to quell those uncomfortable feelings with drugs or alcohol. In fact, the symptoms of mental illness are one common reason that causes an individual to turn to drugs and alcohol. At the same time, having an addiction can contribute to and even create the experience of mental illness, such as anxiety. Often, it’s challenging to determine which came first – the addiction or the mental illness. However, if someone had a long-standing mental illness and then the addiction developed, it might be easier to determine that he or she might have turned to drugs and alcohol as a means to cope with the illness.

Nonetheless, for those who are experiencing both, it’s important that they seek treatment for both illnesses. In fact, research shows that when untreated, an addiction can worsen a mental illness and a mental illness can make worse an addiction. Experts agree that both an addiction and a mental illness need to be treated simultaneously.

Co-occurring disorders affect nearly 8.9 million Americans each year. And of those only 7.4% are known to get treatment. This reveals a staggering amount of men and women who aren’t getting the treatment they need. Sadly, this is also true for anyone who has either addiction or a mental illness. Both come with such a stigma that people tend to avoid getting treatment.  For those who are avoiding treatment because of the judgment they might feel from family and/or friends, many treatment centers can create a confidential experience so that anyone who wants to remain anonymous while in treatment could do so.  Furthermore, health regulations limit the amount of information that others can access. You can remain in control about who finds out about your illnesses.

Typically, treatment would include individual and family psychotherapy, medication, support groups, and strong communication among the psychiatrist, psychologist, family members, social workers, teachers, and other professionals in the individual’s life. Ideally, there would be an integration of services between the psychiatric and the drug counseling fields in order to best treat an individual with a co-occurring disorder.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction as well as a mental illness, it’s important to contact a mental health professional today.

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