Co-occurring mental health issues are disorders that include both a mental illness and an addiction. For example, some people may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a drug addiction. Co-occurring mental health issues are actually common because sometimes an addiction develops as a way to numb the painful effects of an illness. Depression and alcoholism are also often linked. People suffering from major depressive disorder may use alcohol to numb their feelings of overwhelming sadness, thus creating an alcohol addiction.
Addiction and mental illness are often intertwined. They are both chronic brain diseases, which share similar impairments in functioning due to the lengths of each disorder. This often results in a dual diagnosis. While this adds an additional element to recovery, it is can be viewed as an advantage because the recovering addict will also be able to work on their mental illness in a recovery center, under the care of mental health professionals.
When drug or alcohol addiction exists in conjunction with a disorder like anxiety, symptoms may be confusing because of the dual nature. Sweating, shaking, and rapid heart rate may not be noticeable if someone is also abusing alcohol. People may attribute the anxiety symptoms of sweating and shaking to alcohol use.
According to numerous studies, “anxiety and substance use disorders are among the most frequent psychiatric problems in the United States, with lifetime rates of 28.8% and 14.6%” When a recovering addict is has a co-occurring mental illness in addition to an addiction, both must be worked on side-by-side. This is crucial in order to hold on to sobriety. A client with a serious disorder who is only treated for addiction is likely to relapse early, leave sober living, or experience growing symptoms.
Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
The treatment of co-occurring disorders is difficult because what may work in healing one illness, may not work for healing addiction. For example, alcoholics who have a co-occurring disorder like social anxiety may not be able to attend group therapy or a twelve-step program, due to its social aspects. If this traditional treatment option is chosen for the co-occurring disorders (anxiety and substance addiction), the outcome may not be successful. However, individual psychotherapy with one therapist may be the best treatment option. The person will receive individualized care in a safe and welcoming space.
Years of research have proven that while medical intervention may be necessary in some cases, therapy is best for long-term healing. When medication is needed, the best results for changes in thinking, behaviors, and actions are to engage in regular and consistent therapy, alongside medication.
The Co-Occurring Disorder Connection
The connection between co-occurring disorders is complicated just like mental health and addiction. Genetic links often create inclinations toward drug or alcohol abuse and a mental health illness. Additionally, the impairment in brain function due to excessive substance abuse may make a person more susceptible for developing a co-occurring mental illness.
Another connection to addiction may be to trauma victims. Experiencing repeated acts of violence or abuse may lead to complex trauma (C-PTSD), thus leading a person to engage in substance abuse to avoid the past and eliminate flashbacks.
How Sober Living Can Help Co-Occurring Disorders
Sober living homes can provide a recovering addict a safe environment to work on their sobriety. But sober living can also help deal with co-occurring mental health disorders. The atmosphere of a sober living home, regardless of type, will provide a living experience that will provide guidance even after sober living. Through the creation of daily routines, residents learn how to fill their days with productive and healthy activities.
Sober living is sometimes called transitional living, largely because that’s what the home does. It helps you transition into living in the regular world as a sober and independent individual. In attending regular therapy, participating in a solid routine, and following house rules (required therapy, participation, and curfew), residents will be resilient enough to decline any temptations in the outside world once the time at sober living is finished.
But the best way that sober living can help co-occurring disorders in recovery is through an integrated treatment plan. Addiction experts, mental health professionals, and physicians know that recovery is not a one-size fits all package. When dealing with co-occurring disorders that have to be treated at the same time, adjustments have to be made in the best interest of the individual.
Research shows that, “All mental health clinicians should become experienced and skilled in the core psychotherapy approaches to treating substance use disorders…In addition, integrated treatment includes integrating medications for both addiction and mental illness…” Other integrated treatment approaches may include motivational enhancement therapy, relapse prevention techniques, dialectical behavior therapy, and twelve-step programs.
Co-Occurring Disorders and Integrated Treatment
Sober living provides integrated treatment for addiction and mental health illnesses like, anxiety, major depressive disorder, eating disorders, complex trauma, mood disorders, and personality disorders. Specifically tailored integrated programs may utilize a combination of programs like twelve-step meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), nutritional consultations, alternative holistic modalities, and of course, addiction counseling.
While there is no absolute cure for any mental health illness, a combination of treatment options can help a dual diagnosis. While a combination of psychotherapy and medication can help co-occurring disorders, psychotherapy is excellent in creating lasting change. Psychotherapy may be done individually, in group settings, or both. This will be determined by the type mental illness. Therapy provides the opportunity to dig deep to explore root causes, patterns of thoughts, and troubling behaviors. But more importantly, therapy always asks, what can be done?
By having to attend regularly scheduled therapy and residing in a sober living home, progressive steps can be made to heal addiction and mental health disorders. It is important not to be discouraged by a dual diagnosis. Sober living staff and therapists are trained to provide the best care. They want to see all residents be successful in their sobriety and mental health healing. And they will work with you to develop the right integrated treatment plan. Take the first step and find a treatment center today.