The word “co-occurring” implies that two things occur together. When it comes to addiction, having a co-occurring disorder means that a Substance Use Disorder – such as alcoholism, opiate addiction, etc. – occurs alongside a mental health issue.
Mental health issues most often include depression and anxiety, but can also incorporate psychosis, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, or any other mental health diagnosis. While many people do have a primary Substance Use Disorder diagnosis, co-occurring treatment is so important because research has shown that individuals with mental health issues have a much higher rate of substance abuse than other populations.
The reason for this is that substance use can become a symptom for other underlying issues including trauma, depression, anxiety, emotionality, and so forth. Substances can be used to “self-medicate” underlying mental health issues, but also substances can exacerbate or even cause mental health issues.
Sometimes it is difficult to tell which came first – the substance or the mental health symptom – until someone has had the chance to fully detox and get back to their normal self. This is also why it is so important to make sure individuals have access to the appropriate care for all aspects themselves, and at AToN Center we have found it essential to use a holistic approach in which mental health treatment is a vital part of an individualized recovery plan.
Kirsten Helgager, PsyD
AToN Center 888-535-1516