Many people who struggle with substance abuse disorder also have another diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health condition. When someone has both a mental illness and substance abuse disorder, they’re said to have co-occurring disorders, or a dual diagnosis. Understanding the role that your mental health has on your addiction — and vice versa — can help you manage both conditions long term. A treatment center that is experienced with co-occurring disorders can give you a leg up treating your conditions.
Co-occurring Disorders Are Common
According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), more than 9 million American adults had both substance use disorder and a mental illness in 2018. That’s equal to 3.7% of the population.
People with mental illness are more likely than the general public to struggle with substance abuse. For example, about 15% of the general population used illicit drugs during 2018, but the rate was nearly 37% of people with any mental illness, and nearly 50% of people with serious mental illness.
There are many reasons that people with mental illnesses are more likely to abuse substances. Too often, people with mental illness do not have access to the treatment they need. Without adequate treatment, they self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. While this can help symptoms temporarily, they often make symptoms worse in the long run.
In addition, there could be biological factors at play. For example, research has shown that the nicotine from cigarettes can help people with schizophrenia function better, while symptoms of the disease often progress when they quit smoking. That’s because people with schizophrenia have fewer nicotine receptors than healthy individuals. It’s no wonder that roughly 90% of people with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes.
Treating Co-occurring Disorders
When you have both a mental health condition and substance-abuse disorder, you should treat both conditions at the same time. This is known as integrated intervention. Treatment centers that are experienced with treating substance use disorders can handle both conditions at once.
There used to be an outdated idea that one must be sober before their mental health condition could be treated. However, best practices now show that addressing the mental health condition can help people get and stay sober, so it’s important to tackle both issues at once, even though that can seem overwhelming. That’s why having a team experienced at treating co-occurring disorders is so important.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
Some people with co-occurring disorders will come to treatment with a diagnosed mental health condition. However, it’s very common for people to come to treatment without a diagnosis.
In that case, your treatment team might provide you with a diagnosis, or they might decide to wait a bit. That’s because mental health diagnoses are based on observation of behavior. Your provider might want to get a better handle of what your behaviors look like when you’re not using drugs or alcohol, which can change the way you act.
Your diagnosis can even change with time — remember that diagnosing a mental health condition isn’t a simple or definitive process, so it’s important to trust your treatment team, even if they don’t immediately have clear-cut answers for you.
Mental Health Takeaways
Getting treatment for mental health conditions and substance abuse disorder can be scary. You’re managing not just one chronic condition, but two. Understanding the ways that your substance abuse — and soon your sobriety — can impact your mental health is important to sustaining your progress in treatment.
The interaction between mental illness and addiction can be nuanced. Having a trusted treatment team that understands dual diagnoses is very important. With counseling, medication and education about your mental health condition, you’ll be able to achieve long-term sobriety.
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