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The Importance of Treating Co-Occurring Disorders Together

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If you or someone you know has a problem with substance abuse, there might be more to it than meets the eye. When people develop addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol, there is a mental factor involved that can easily become very psychological over time. Addiction to drugs or alcohol can create situations in a person’s life that can be overwhelming and frustrating, leading to nowhere. These are some reasons why a dual-diagnosis form of treatment is often the best option for overcoming co-occurring disorders.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

When substance abuse is coupled with mental health disorders, this is called a co-occurring disorder. This is a medical and psychiatric condition that was previously referred to as a dual diagnosis. While dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorder treatment can be used interchangeably, the latter is the phrase most often used by today’s practitioners in the substance abuse rehabilitation field.

Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation or detox centers treat the drug or alcohol addiction while never addressing the mental issues associated with it. It turns out that people with mental problems are more at risk of developing substance patterns due to their addictive personalities. Although this is not a mental condition within itself, it can mean that you have a predisposition for drug or alcohol abuse if ever exposed to such things.

It’s become a standard practice for professionals in the substance abuse rehabilitation sector to conduct extensive counseling sessions with their patients in order to determine if there is a mental health condition attached to their addiction. This is critically important because, if the mental issues are not resolved or controlled, addiction will most probably continue and even get worse over time.

Mental disorders can be hard to diagnose, however, there are several warning signs that might be an indication of a psychological or mental disorder hiding in the background of addictive tendencies. During a consultation, a counselor or psychiatrist can look for several life experiences that might lead to mental or psychological problems:

  •  Coming from a single-parent home or an otherwise broken home.
  •  Low or nonexistent level of education.
  • A lack of friends, family members or general support or social group.
  • Coming from a low-income background or living in a low-income neighborhood or part of town.
  • Former incarceration or problems with the law.
  • Men, women, and teenagers who have suffered from child or marital abuse.

While these are not definite indications of mental illness, most people who experience these things and use drugs or alcohol will develop mental issues either before they begin using or while they are using.

How are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated?

In order for people with co-occurring disorders to be rehabilitated, they have to be treated for both their physical dependency as well as their mental obsession. These two attributes are usually present when a person is addicted to any substance, even if it’s just food. There is generally an inability to control their impulsive actions and desires. These desires are, in turn, associated with feelings of safety, comfort and a sense of peace or tranquility.

These feelings are well-ingrained and very hard to overcome. In order for these intense desires to be more easily controllable, the substance being abused has to be removed from a person’s system as thoroughly as possible. This is called the detox or detoxification process. Dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorder treatment will always involve a detoxification process first and foremost. During the detox process, patients are checked into a detox facility and monitored 24 hours a day for up to a full week. They are given medications to stop them from experiencing uncomfortable or painful withdrawal symptoms.

After the detox process is successfully completed by the patient, inpatient rehabilitation needs to take place over a significant length of time. In most cases, inpatient rehabilitation will continue for about thirty days or longer. The idea is to provide the patient with all the counseling, medications and group therapy to help them recognize and deal with the mental issues causing or exacerbating their addictions.

There is a lot of evidence that shows the connection between addiction and mental health. It’s been well known that drugs can affect the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. People with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorders have an imbalance of these kinds of mood-altering chemicals produced by the brain. In an attempt to correct them, medications are given to correct this imbalance. Hopefully, as more research is conducted, there might be a solution to correct the imbalances that cause addictive traits.

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