Most medical professionals agree that drug addiction stems from an imbalanced chemical makeup in the brain. Most also believe the same about mental illnesses. Recognizing that both of these illnesses lead back to the same circumstances, why isn’t co-occurring treatment more prominent within the rehabilitation field?

In 2017, a staggering 7.9 million people struggled with a mental illness and substance use disorder simultaneously according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA.) Meanwhile, roughly 59 percent of rehab facilities in the United States do not offer treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. Seeing how common it is to have both a mental illness and a substance use disorder, shouldn’t there be more emphasis on co-occurring disorder treatment?

The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Substance Misuse  

Many people fail to realize that the two conditions can go hand in hand. According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, 45 percent of Americans who end up seeking treatment for a substance use disorder discover they had an underlying mental illness. Those who suffer from a psychological disorder may turn to substances like alcohol, marijuana or other drugs to numb the pain that they’re feeling. Meanwhile, those who struggle with a substance use disorder may develop conditions like anxiety or depression due to the alterations of their brain’s chemical makeup. Case Western Reserve University found that individuals who have a co-occurring disorder can encounter numerous challenges that affect their everyday lives such as:

  • Drastic mood changes
  • Panic attacks
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Unemployment
  • Self-harm
  • Homelessness
  • Poverty
  • Infectious diseases
  • Suicidal tendencies

To ensure that these painful symptoms can be both recognized and treated, multiple organizations are dedicated to educating the public on the reality of co-occurring disorders.. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) aims to spread awareness about the increase in co-occurring disorders. The organization gathers information from the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey and the National Comorbidity Survey. Through these reports, NAMI found that:

  • Around 50 percent of people who have a severe mental illness also have a substance use disorder
  • Thirty-seven percent of people who misuse alcohol and 53 percent who misuse drugs struggle with at least one mental illness
  • Of individuals with schizophrenia, 47 percent face a substance use disorder
  • Sixty-one percent of individuals with bipolar disorder also struggle with substance misuse, which is five times more than the general population

Effective Ways to Treat Co-Occurring Disorders

With mental illnesses and substance misuse often going hand in hand, treating both conditions simultaneously is necessary for a successful recovery. However, for some rehab or detox centers, co-occurring treatment isn’t the highest priority because the focus is on cleansing a patient’s body of drugs or alcohol. Treatment teams are aware of the uncomfortable, dangerous and sometimes life-threatening effects of these substances, thus the team will work to get a patient’s physical health intact before working on their mental health. Once a patient has detoxed from a substance, they can continue counseling as a part of a  treatment plan. For those looking to treat addiction form the inside out, a program that offers co-occurring disorders treatment can be an important set in the process.

Treating a co-occurring mental illness is similar to treating a substance use disorder with a few additional steps. The NAMI organization believes that the idea that a mental illness can’t be treated alongside a substance use disorder is obsolete. They believe that both issues can be addressed together. NAMI recommends several methods to help assist with treating both issues at once:

    • Detoxification: This is a crucial part of overcoming a substance use disorder. Cleansing the body of the substance and allowing the brain’s chemical makeup to return to its original state can be an uncomfortable process, as withdrawal symptoms often occur. Detoxing at a rehab facility is often the safest and most effective way to detox, as a doctor can administer certain medications to ease withdrawal symptoms. Having a treatment team will also reduce the chances of experiencing setbacks. For individuals facing a dual diagnosis, it may be most beneficial to enter inpatient detoxification treatment for a more intensive form of care.
    • Psychotherapy: The American Psychological Association defines behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and holistic therapy as different forms of psychotherapy. These practices treat mental illness through using principles of psychology. This method is often the most effective when helping a person struggling with their mental health. While it may not immediately change a person’s mindset, psychotherapy helps individuals learn to change their way of thinking in order to maintain focus and positive attitudes.
    • Medication: While certain prescribed medications taken under the supervision of a medical professional are helpful for withdrawal symptoms, they can also benefit individuals who struggle with a mental illness. For example, hormonal imbalances can cause mental health issues. To help manage the imbalance, individuals in a medication management program may take prescriptions  that will regulate the amount of hormones in their body.
    • Self-Help and Support Groups: Having the opportunity to share hardships, techniques, successes and resources with other individuals in similar predicaments allows a person to feel as if they aren’t alone in their struggles. It reminds them that their feelings are not abnormal and that other people face similar challenges. Support groups also encourage people to progress in their recovery as they are surrounded by others who can show them that it is possible. Groups that may be helpful are Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Double Trouble in Recovery and other programs that are available locally.

Co-occurring disorder treatment can provide an individual with a positive outcome. Along with cleansing the body of drugs or alcohol, patients learn skills that can help them refrain from misusing substances again. Because their mental illness is no longer standing in the way, patients have the opportunity to live a higher quality life. Seeking treatment also helps reduce the possibility of setbacks or hospitalization occurring, as well as reducing the chance of arrest or incarceration  due to the behavior caused by the disorder.

The Lack of Co-Occurring Care Throughout the Country

Knowing that co-occurring disorder treatment is beneficial for individuals who suffer with both a mental illness and a substance use disorder, it’s surprising that many rehab centers don’t treat co-occurring disorders.

Percentage of U.S. Rehab Facilities That Offer Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment

The best way to spread the importance of treating co-occurring disorders is through education. There has always been stigma surrounding mental health as well as the idea of substance misuse being a choice, but in order for things to change, society must understand how these disorders form. Organizations like The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Treatment Advocacy Center, Mental Health America and NAMI help educate society on the importance of mental health and co-occurring treatment as well as fundraise for treatment opportunities.

Getting Help for Substance Use and Co-Occurring Disorders

If you or a loved one struggle with a co-occuring disorder, call The Recovery Village to speak with an admissions representative who can help find the proper treatment center for you. With numerous facilities across the country, each location offers individualized care for each patient. Don’t wait, call 352.771.2700 today.

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Why Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Is Crucial to Recovery
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