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Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

co-occurring disorders

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders

There has long been speculation on which came first: the chicken or the egg? The answer in that argument had little practical application, as it neither impacted the existence of chickens nor eggs. The same could be considered true of co-occurring disorders. Which one came first is not as important as getting them both diagnosed and treated. But what are co-occurring disorders?

More Than Just Substance Use

There is a reason that the term “self-medicating” exists, it is because many people struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more, but are undiagnosed. Struggling with the challenges of these disorders on our own is very difficult. This often leads to people seeking substances as a way to escape their challenges or pain from the disorder, or self-medicating. Using substances for such chronic conditions can easily lead to addiction.

Ironically, those who abuse substances can develop depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more as a result of chronic substance use. There is a real connection between substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders because they are all chemical-based conditions in our brains. Having both an SUD and a mental health disorder is known as having co-occurring disorders. 

Much like the chicken and the egg question, people try to decide which came first, the substance use or the mental health issue, but the most important issue is getting a correct diagnosis for both conditions and treating them both. If we really need to know which came first, we can examine that in the future with a therapist or other health care professional. For the here and now, we need to get the diagnosis and treatment to be healthy.

Difficult Diagnoses

Perhaps the most difficult part of co-occurring disorders is diagnosis. Formerly known as dual diagnosis, some parts of the medical industry can struggle to keep up with newer research on this condition. One of the best ways to get a proper diagnosis and care is to find an accredited facility that treats co-occurring disorders. These facilities have plenty of experience diagnosing and treating both SUDs and mental health disorders. 

Diagnosing co-occurring disorders can be difficult because many of the behaviors overlap. It is not unheard of to treat substance use and then determine a mental health diagnosis, but that increases our chance of relapse, it is a vicious cycle. Again, addiction recovery facilities excel in the ability to make co-occurring diagnoses, because they have so much experience working with those of us who have both issues.

Challenges in Treatment

Treating co-occurring disorders is challenging because treating one can exacerbate the other and vice-versa. For example, treating substance use can worsen depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD symptoms. This, in turn, makes us more likely to want to self-medicate again to get relief from the behaviors and symptoms.

Likewise, by only treating the mental health issue, we continue to use substances or perhaps even increase our use. Because so many of these mental health issues are treated with medications that are contraindicated to be used with most substances, we also put our physical health in danger.

Being correctly diagnosed and treated is so important with co-occurring disorders. We can receive proper medical care as we remove substances from our lives and simultaneously receive appropriate medical care for our mental health. In therapy, we can explore the connections and co-existence of both substances and mental health issues. We can unravel our lives from mental health issues and substance use and find healing for both together. Treating co-occurring disorders simultaneously is by far the most successful treatment option. 

Recovery Advantage

One of the advantages of entering recovery for a co-occurring disorder is that it is almost two for the price of one recovery. Obviously, it is more difficult, and there are challenges that a person having only one of an SUD or mental health diagnosis would not face. Being fortunate enough to get a correct diagnosis for both disorders simultaneously is like having all of the pieces of a puzzle. 

We still have to do the work and put those puzzle pieces together. But we get to do that with full knowledge of the challenges we have. Having both diagnoses together will help us make sense of our lives and may even give us more determination and commitment to our recovery.

Mission Possible

What are co-occurring disorders? They are the simultaneously-occurring existence of an SUD and a mental health disorder. This is not a mission impossible diagnosis. In fact, getting the appropriate diagnosis can help considerably with successful treatment and recovery for both conditions. 

Which disorder came first is not the most important question. The more important question is whether or not we are prepared to heal in ways we may not have thought possible. Co-occurring disorders may seem like twice the trouble, but they also bring about twice the possibility for recovery. When we are willing to look at both disorders at the same time, we remove so many barriers that would keep us from treating one at a time. A correct co-occurring diagnosis removes the mystery and makes our recovery a mission possible.

Find the correct diagnosis for you at AToN Center. Call (888) 535-1516 today. We are experienced in treating co-occurring disorders. We can help you begin your simultaneous recovery journey. We are committed to evidence-based, medically effective practices to treat substance use and co-occurring disorders.  

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