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The complex relationship of addiction and mental health

Co-occurring disorders, also often referred to as comorbidity, is the term we apply when a person is suffering from two or more disorders or illnesses at the same time.

When it comes to addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, the chances of a co-occurring mental health disorder are alarmingly high.

People suffering substance dependencies very frequently also experience symptoms of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

In many cases the comorbid disorders are so deeply connected that it can be hard to determine which condition was present first, substance dependency or a mental health issue; however, unravelling the relationship between co-occurring disorders is important in order to design a successful treatment plan.

If you or a loved one is suffering from comorbid addiction and mental health disorders, it is vital to educate yourself and understand as much about both conditions as possible.

Yes, there might be moments when recovery seems out of reach but with appropriate treatment that takes all present conditions into consideration, it is by no means impossible to put an end to the suffering that come with addiction and mental health issues.

Co-relations between addiction and mental health disorders

Statistics show that around 50% of people struggling with substance abuse issues also present with symptoms of mental health disorders and that around 50% of people seeking help for mental health conditions also have a problem with addiction.

Therein lies the biggest challenge when it comes to treatment.

It is often seemingly impossible to tell whether substance overuse has caused a mental health issue or if an addiction has occurred in response to a pre-existent mental health condition.

This is why a thorough assessment of any potential client at a treatment facility is so important.

Substance abuse is often a result of people self-medicating to relieve the symptoms of a mental health disorder; in which case the treatment of the mental health concerns will almost always result in an automatic recovery from the co-occurring addiction.

On the other hand, when overuse of drugs and/or alcohol has caused a mental health condition – i.e. in a case of drug induced psychosis – it is very likely that all mental health symptoms will subside once a client has become drug free.

In either situation, it is imperative to address comorbid disorders alongside each other if a successful recovery is to be achieved.

Common co-occurring disorders

Mood disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety and panic disorders) are exceedingly common co-occurring disorders in people suffering from addiction.

However, some common comorbid disorders are less obvious.

Persons struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently co-present with substance abuse issues, as a result of alleviating their mental health symptoms.

PTSD-sufferers most often turn to alcohol to dull their pain; however, there are also many recorded cases of PTDS co-occurring with addiction to cannabis and ice (crystal methamphetamine).

The same goes for people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The socially debilitating symptoms of OCD are often underestimated; which is why many sufferers turn to drugs and/or alcohol as self-medication rather than seeking professional help.

There is also a strong comorbidity between substance dependency and eating disorders; often rooted in an attempt to use drugs to control and diminish appetite.

Ice use in particular can result in loss of appetite, which can be dangerously appealing for people struggling with body image issues.

Social stigma is a huge factor when it comes to substance abuse substituting for medical treatment; which is why an integral part of successful treatment is to understand just how common these co-occurring disorders are.

Combating shame is often the first step to making long-term recovery possible.

Treatment approach – Interdisciplinary/ dual diagnosis treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment, also known as the interdisciplinary approach to addiction treatment, means that all comorbid disorders are being addressed within one treatment plan.

As mental health issues and substance abuse are often so closely interlinked, this treatment approach has proven much more effective than treatments which address either mental health or substance abuse exclusively.

The aim of dual diagnosis treatment is to not only help a person to stop using drugs and/or alcohol but also to understand their relationship with substance abuse.

If a person is aware of their individual triggers, warning signs of cravings to come and their physical and psychological responses to triggers and cravings, it is much easier to develop coping strategies.

Long-term recovery requires a lot of work, but with appropriate addiction treatment and strong focus on developing individual plans for relapse prevention it is a thoroughly attainable goal.

Help is available

Regardless of how hopeless a situation might seem, help is available if you are brave enough to reach out and ask for it. There is no reason to continue an existence ruled by addiction.  You can start to reclaim your life today.

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