Dealing With an Addict Struggling With a Co-occurring Disorder

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May 5, 2016

Dealing With an Addict Struggling With a Co-occurring Disorder


People with drug and alcohol problems are often living with secondary conditions or what is called a co-occurring disorder. A co-occurring disorder can include additional substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, and mental health problems. The co-existence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder is known as a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder, with this single term used to describe a wide range of complex interactions.

Dealing With an Addict Struggling With a Co-occurring Disorder

Dealing With an Addict Struggling With Dual Diagnosis

Also known as co-occurring disorders, dual diagnosis conditions can be difficult to diagnose and treat. If you have a friend or family member who’s living with a co-occurring disorder, it’s important to find professional help as soon as possible.

What are Co-occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders involve the simultaneous existence of a mental illness and a substance use disorder. Dual diagnosis interactions take many forms, from clear causal links through to complex bi-directional relationships. For example, drug-induced psychosis is a mental health condition caused directly by drug use, often through the abuse of methamphetamine or cocaine. People with pre-existing mental health problems also turn to drugs as a form of escape, with broad links existing between depression and addiction and anxiety and addiction. Co-occurring disorders are more common than many people think, with millions of people affected directly or indirectly by dual diagnosis conditions.

Dealing With an Addict Struggling With a Co-occurring Disorder

Treating Co-occurring Disorders

There are many ways to treat co-occurring disorders, from medical detox and other forms of pharmacotherapy through to behavioral therapy and counseling. Before treating someone with a dual diagnosis, doctors will normally attempt to define a single primary disorder and differentiate between drug-induced mental disorders and pre-existing conditions. While this distinction is not always easy to make, it helps clinicians to define an appropriate treatment plan. A number of treatment options are available to dual diagnosis patients, including medical detox, inpatient drug rehab, outpatient drug rehab, relapse prevention, and 12-step support programs.

Treatment Patterns for Co-occurring Disorders

There are four main ways to treat co-occurring disorders: primary treatment, sequential treatment, parallel treatment, and integrated treatment. Primary treatment tackles what is believed to be the primary disorder, with secondary symptoms often alleviated indirectly. Sequential treatment offers a more comprehensive solution, also managing the secondary condition once the primary disorder has been stabilized. Parallel treatment deals with both conditions at the same time, often with the help of a second treatment facility. Integrated plans are often recommended, with this style of treatment managing both disorders as a single unified condition.

Dealing With an Addict Struggling With a Co-occurring Disorder

Helping Loved Ones With a Co-occurring Disorder

Managing a dual diagnosis effectively takes time, commitment, and external support. The treatment process often begins with medical detox, especially when the patient is living with a physical drug dependency. Long-term pharmacotherapy is also be needed in some situations, with different medications administered depending on the mental illness and substance use disorder in question. Extended rehabilitation and aftercare support systems are also advised in most cases, including the provision of cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, group counseling, and 12-step support. If someone you know is struggling with a co-occurring disorder, it’s important to find specialized help as soon as you can.

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