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Common Co-Occurring Disorders

What does Co-Occurring Disorder mean?

If you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder and addiction at the same time, this is referred to as co-occurring disorders. It is also commonly called dual disorders or comorbidity.

Mental health disorders and drug and alcohol addiction have a particularly high rate of co-occurring. Dual Diagnosis is the term given when a co-occurring disorder has been detected.

What are Common Co-Occurring Disorders?

Persons suffering from affective disorders (i.e. depression and bipolar disorder) or anxiety disorders (i.e. post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder) are often found to have issues with substance dependencies. The National Survey of Health and Wellbeing concluded that no less than 35 % of Australians suffering from affective or anxiety disorders also struggle with substance abuse.

Persons dealing with severe mental health disorders (i.e. schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder) are even more likely to slip into drug addiction.

Alcohol & Depression/ Alcohol & Panic disorder

Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency are most commonly co-occurring in persons diagnosed with depression and/or panic disorder. Seeking to numb their pain or soothe their nerves, alcohol – the most widely used drug in Australia – can quickly become the go-to medication if professional help is not sought out.

Cocaine & Severe Depression

Cocaine abuse is often co-occurring with major depressive disorder. As cocaine is known to give a boost to self-image and enhance energy levels, it can be an appealing quick fix for an individual trapped in a depressive episode. However, as the effects quickly wear off the symptoms of depression are likely to worsen, in the worst cases starting of a downward spiral of increasing cocaine use.

Ice (Crystal Methamphetamine) & Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and an addiction to ice are classic co-occurring disorders and their individual symptoms are often difficult to tell apart. Sufferers are likely to exhibit erratic behaviour (i.e. manic highs, hysterical laughter and sudden fits of rage), severe mood swings and may be developing an increasingly warped view of reality. Excessive ice use can lead to symptoms of schizophrenia; pre-existing schizophrenic episodes will worsen dramatically when paired with crystal methamphetamine abuse.

Poly-Drug Use & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The term ‘poly-drug use’ refers to drug abuse spanning a range of substances, meaning the user does not have a clear preference for one particular drug. As sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder can experience a wide range of symptoms (i.e. panic attacks, sleep disorders, hallucinations, depression and paranoia) it sadly makes sense that they might turn to a variety of substances to self-medicate depending on their circumstances. Alcohol, cannabis and opiate abuse are common co-occurring disorders.

What are Treatments for Co-Occurring Disorders?

As co-occurring disorders qualify as Dual Diagnosis, they will ideally be addressed with a Dual Treatment Plan. This holistic approach to drug and mental therapy combines the treatment of both, rather than focussing on just one aspect of a patient’s battle. For long-term success it is necessary to examine the co-occurring disorders in depth and determine which one has paved the way for the other. With intensive and mindful therapy, sufferers of co-occurring disorders can achieve lasting recovery and lead happy and fulfilling lives.

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