Overview of Mental Disorders

Co-Occuring Disorders Information

According to a recent study, about 18% of all Americans (43.6 million people) suffer from some form of mental illness. Additionally, about 8.4% of the adult population (about 20 million people) struggles with substance abuse and/or addiction. Almost eight million of these individuals have both a mental health and a substance abuse disorder, also known as co-occurring disorders.

People who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse or addictions are about twice as likely to have a co-occurring mental health issue. These metrics are highest among young adults, accounting for almost half of all instances of co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis.

In many cases, help will be sought for one disorder but not the other – for instance, treatment may be rendered for a drug addiction but not the underlying mental health issue. Co-occurring disorders are often the most difficult to diagnose, due in large part to the complexity of the presenting symptoms. Aspects of addiction and abuse often mimic mental health symptoms. A comprehensive approach to treatment must be employed in order to accurately assess each individual case.

Co-occurring disorders are commonly untreated or undertreated

Misdiagnosis could happen as a result of many factors. The attending clinician may not have the experience or background in one area or the other, or symptoms may overlap and vary greatly in severity. There may be a range of mitigating factors that include psychological, social, economic, or biological elements.

Left untreated or undertreated, a co-occurring disorder can lead to a higher incidence of illness, injury, incarceration, homelessness, suicide, or early death.

Addiction disorders are commonly linked to mental health disorders The truth is, addiction and substance abuse disorders are more common among those with mental health disorders. The drugs or alcohol are used in an effort to feel “normal” or to take the edge off of mental health symptoms they have to deal with on a daily basis.

A mental health disorder can also be triggered by substance abuse, such as might be the case in situations of extreme paranoia, anxiety or depression that is triggered by drug abuse. Regardless of the primary or underlying issue or even what type of mental health disorder is present, when both substance abuse and mental illness are present, we categorize it as a co-occurring disorder.

Some of the mental health disorders that can be present in dual diagnosis include:

It does not matter what type of drug is being abused—it could be marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, or hallucinogens—if any of these disorders are present in conjunction with substance abuse, we must address each issue separately in order to establish an appropriate course of treatment.

Self-medicating mental illness

While the statistics mentioned above are alarming in and of themselves, it is only taking into consideration those who seek help. There is perhaps a much larger segment of the population that does not seek help for either disorder due to the fact that our society stigmatizes mental illness.

It can also be said that a child growing up with parents who do not seek treatment for their own dual diagnoses may go on to repeat this behavior. Behavioral patterns that are established during childhood will develop in adulthood, potentially going on to perpetuate the pattern in successive generations.

Trauma can trigger both mental illness and substance abuse

A traumatic event can be at the root of mental illness and substance abuse. If the individual experiences such an event and is unable to process or handle it, they are highly likely to experience a mental illness. They may then turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms, and the drugs they choose may exacerbate or trigger mental illness.

Substance abuse and mental health disorders go hand in hand

In many cases, those who struggle with mental health will seek to alleviate their symptoms with drugs or alcohol. This also applies to mental health issues such as gambling addictions, ADHD, and sex addiction. During such episodes, the individual may seek out drugs or alcohol to help them navigate social interaction.

Mental health disorders can be frightening and isolating. Help may not be sought for many reasons: social stigma, lack of access to care, cost of treatment, or a general misunderstanding of symptoms and lack of knowledge that there is help available can lead to self-medication. In desperation, some may choose to purchase prescription drugs illicitly, creating an even more serious issue as this opens up the potential for major side-effects as well as addictions.

While some substances may at first help the patient to better manage their day-to-day lives and tolerate the symptoms they are experiencing, it can quickly become a physical or psychological dependence that is difficult to come back from.

Oftentimes, drugs and alcohol amplify mental health symptoms. For instance, depression may worsen when alcohol is introduced, and anxiety may increase when drugs are part of the equation.

Adding to the burden, if both issues are not addressed, there is a very high potential that the individual will find themselves in the same situation sooner or later. Receiving treatment for both the mental health as well as the substance abuse issues is key to long-term recovery.

Recovery from co-occurring disorders

Treatment for co-occurring disorders involves a process of ongoing change in which the individual receives intensive treatment for both the addiction and the underlying mental health disorder.

Complicating matters, the drug addiction or abuse symptoms may mask or mimic the mental health issues. Diagnosis, therefore, is a complicated process that requires careful monitoring during the detox phase, continuing through aftercare and establishing ongoing support.

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring addictions

People who struggle with bipolar disorder are highly likely to develop a co-occurring substance abuse disorder if left untreated. Bipolar symptoms can range from mild to severe. During a major depressive episode, drugs may be sought to lift the mood, to numb the pain, or in some cases to attempt suicide.

During a manic phase, bipolar individuals may seek out drugs to enhance or prolong their high. Stimulants can figure greatly into this scenario, making for a dangerous combination that will fend off sleep and amplify paranoid or anxious feelings.

Co-occurring bipolar disorder with the presence of drug addiction or abuse today accounts for a higher incidence than any other dual diagnosis. More than half of all people who struggle with bipolar disorder have a co-occurring drug abuse or addiction. Slightly less than half are dependent on or abuse alcohol on a regular basis.

Learn More | Bipolar Disorder

Trauma disorder and co-occurring addictions

Trauma disorder is commonly associated with substance abuse and addiction. Blurring traumatic memories by using drugs or alcohol is a way to cope with the trauma if it is left undiagnosed or untreated.

Treatment addresses the underlying addictions first. Removing the substances from the body is key to understanding the source of the trauma. Drugs or alcohol could also be making the trauma symptoms worse or may be causing additional psychological issues.

Learn More | Trauma Disorder

Depressive disorder and co-occurring addictions

For those who struggle with depressive disorder, drugs can be seen as a way out of their situation. Unfortunately, many drugs, including alcohol, can increase depression and lethargy. Even so, depressive individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to take their mind away from painful thoughts or to lift their spirits.

One in three young adults who struggle with addictions or drug abuse also have a co-occurring depressive disorder. Left untreated, this could lead to a higher potential for suicide, self-harm, accidental injury, and illness.

Drug abuse in depressed individuals can also extend to the medications they have been prescribed. Self-medicating is common, as is the misuse of and non-compliance with medication therapy, presenting a real and present danger to the patient that includes a risk of overdose or organ failure.

Learn More | Depressive Disorder

Anxiety disorder and co-occurring addictions

For those who struggle with anxiety disorders, drugs and alcohol may seem like an easy way to control and manage their symptoms, but in reality, they often magnify anxious feelings. About 20% of people who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring substance abuse issue.

Learn More | Anxiety Disorder

Colorado treatment for co-occurring disorders

With any of the above diagnoses, treatment of the substance abuse is just the beginning. A co-occurring diagnosis requires a many-layered approach, first addressing the substance abuse and addiction in a detox environment and then moving on to establish an appropriate course of treatment for the mental illness.

The importance of age-specific and gender-specific treatment in Colorado

Peaks Recovery Center is dedicated to providing age-specific and gender-specific care for young adults in recovery. By placing patients with their peers, we are able to provide them with a much greater chance of long-term success once they leave the program.

Age-specific treatment gives our patients a relatable peer group to interact with, one that largely shares the same life experiences and milestones associated with their age. Older, more experienced individuals can be a distraction, causing young adults and teens to act out or be hesitant to participate in treatment for fear of seeming “uncool” or inexperienced.

For the same reason, we emphasize a gender-specific treatment program as it helps our patients to just be themselves. We find this allows them to fully focus on their recovery, the opposite of which would present a distraction due to sexual tension, editing their responses, feeling too inhibited to participate, or a fear of vulnerability.

We also place a very high emphasis on life after treatment. To this end, we teach valuable life skills that will highlight personal responsibility and accountability. When leaving the program, each participant will carry with them the tools they will need to succeed in the “real world” such as job seeking skills, and the interpersonal and communication skills they will need to help them continue to progress in recovery.

Colorado co-occurring disorder treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, drug or alcohol abuse, with or without the presence of mental illness, you are not alone. Call Peaks Recovery today to find out about how we can help.