Drug addiction, for many in our society, is a horrible thing that is portrayed with stereotypical caricatures of real people. Movies and television programs often place individuals who abuse drugs into very specific categories, such as high-powered executives who abuse cocaine to keep up with the fast pace of their careers, the homeless, or criminals taking advantage of urban decay. What these types of media influences do not address routinely is the fact that drug addiction is an illness. It is a chronic mental health issue that can have hefty physical ramifications; and it can be treated successfully in many cases.
While drug addiction, by itself, is a disease, it is often accompanied by other mental illness conditions, according to the experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When two or more mental illnesses occur at the same time, they are described as co-occurring disorders, or co-morbid conditions. A few mental illnesses that often coincide with drug addiction include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Compulsion disorders
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
If you are, or someone you love is, struggling with addiction, it is important to understand co-occurring disorders so you can receive the very best treatment available.
Co-Occurring Disorders Can Be Difficult to Diagnose
As with other illnesses, when individuals suffer from drug addiction, they often want to know why this has happened to them or a member of their family. They want to understand why they have been made to suffer, why they were singled out by some unknown force to deal with this severe problem. The diagnosis of a co-occurring disorder may seem like a reason for the drug addiction. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy, or even possible, to determine which issue came first – the co-occurring disorder or the addiction.
Some drugs of addiction can create symptoms of mental illness or cause a person to suffer from another form of mental illness. For instance, heavy and long-term use of some stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine, can create anxiety and panic disorders. Abuse of marijuana can create psychosis, according to some experts. Addiction to alcohol and some other drugs can lead to severe depression. Determining whether someone’s symptoms are a direct result of the drug abuse and addiction issue, rather than a condition of their own, may require a long-term diagnostic process that includes observation and testing after a period of sobriety.
To determine the best treatment program for each person, however, trained and experienced care providers will perform evidence-based diagnostic tests when the individual reaches out for treatment. This way, every aspect of care is directed to treating the entire person, rather than only addressing the addiction issues on their own.
Treatment Plans Must Be Flexible
In some cases, an individual may suffer from a mental illness prior to engaging in drug abuse. As their addiction grows, their mental illness – the one that existed prior to addiction – may become worse. When this happens, upon admittance to a treatment facility, they may be provided with a treatment plan that addresses the symptoms as they are presented. After recovery has begun, however, the original illness may begin to wane. The symptoms may not be as severe because they are no longer being fed by the addiction and illicit drugs.This does not mean that they are no longer in need of treatment. Rather, it is still important to treat both the addiction and the original, pre-existing co-occurring disorder so that neither condition will be a danger to the other. This is why it is so important that a treatment plan be flexible. During the course of treatment, the levels of care can be raised or lowered depending upon the primary needs of each resident.
Co-Occurring Disorders Require Simultaneous Care
For simplicity’s sake, it may seem like a good idea to tackle one major issue at a time. For instance, if the drug addiction seems to be posing more problems than an anxiety disorder like OCD, one might think that treating the addiction issue is more important. Likewise, if individuals are suffering from depression to the point of possibly harming themselves, one might think that simply cutting off their supply to drugs by checking into a residential treatment facility would be enough – that concentration should be placed on the depression and the drug addiction can be dealt with later.
Unfortunately, the easy road is not always the best route. Research has shown that it is better to treat both (or all) of the mental illnesses at the same time to allow for the best prognosis in the long run. When an individual is being treated at a residential facility — actually living in a place of healing and understanding — they can concentrate on these multiple issues while they experience the total submersion of around-the-clock treatment.
Benefits of Inpatient Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the most effective types of care for drug addiction treatment involves inpatient or residential therapy. This type of treatment plan can be long-term, lasting for months, a year or longer, or short-term, typically spanning the course of several weeks or a month. An inpatient program for the treatment of co-occurring disorders offers several added benefits that may not be available when an individual chooses to continue working or to live at home.
- Inpatient care offers emotional, physical and psychological support 24 hours each day and night with staff on hand at all times to address issues.
- Residential care removes some of the burdens of daily life, such as consistent responsibilities and pressure of friends, family or work.
- Residential treatment facilities can offer complementary therapies, such as relaxation techniques for spiritual, emotional and physical pain relief.
- Inpatient care features private, sedate surroundings that are conducive to the healing process.
- Healing and recovery become priorities as the individual is completely immersed in the recovery process.
For some individuals, inpatient treatment is not an option for any number of reasons. Intensive outpatient programs are also available. These programs allow for intensive individual, group and family therapy while the individual meets obligations to family or vocational pursuits.
Types of Therapy for Dual Diagnosis
Treating a co-occurring disorder is a little different than treatment for other chronic diseases. Individuals who suffer from diabetes, for instance, may need to adjust their diet and exercise or take medication to control aspects of the disease. While medication is also an option for some individuals suffering from co-occurring mental illnesses, there are several types of psychological counseling that may also be involved.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is designed to help individuals see the world in which they live in a new way as they learn to question their own, unhealthy belief systems and develop practical life skills and decision-making practices. Family therapy can help to address the needs of the entire family unit as the mental health issues of one family member can often negatively affect the entire family. Group therapy, both in psychological and support arenas, can provide positive reinforcement from one’s peers who have also struggled with addiction and mental illness. Each of these types of therapy for co-occurring disorders can come together under the care and compassionate reassurance of trained, experience professionals to create a safe and nurturing environment for the recovering addict.
Getting Help for Co-Occurring Disorders
Each person’s needs are different and unique. Regardless of the type of treatment that is right for you, the most important goal is to get the help you need, or your loved one needs, to overcome the negative effects of a co-occurring disorder. According to the evidence, the earlier an intervention occurs, the better the prognosis will be for recovery.