What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?
Co-occurring disorders are both intuitive and complex. A co-occurring disorder is when an individual suffers from a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder, such as depression, simultaneously. What is important to grasp is the simultaneous distinction between and interrelationship of the two disorders.
There is a commonly understood logic that when an individual suffers from a mental health disorder, they tend to develop a substance abuse disorder. It is less obvious why a person with a substance abuse disorder would develop an eating disorder, however, both of these are distinctly possible. Co-occurring disorders are urgently important to understand and respect, for any co-occurrence requires an address of both outward and underlying–or causative–symptoms. The separate disorders are links in the chain of un-wellness.
Admittedly, however, it can be difficult to differentiate between the symptoms of say, depression, and the symptoms of substance abuse.
Frequent signs of co-occurring disorders include a worsening of symptoms during treatment for substance abuse. For example, someone with an anxiety disorder becomes dependent on benzodiazepines to cope with their anxiety disorder. When they go to substance abuse treatment and their benzodiazepine use is eliminated, the symptoms of anxiety show a strong emergence.
Moreover, those with co-occurring disorders are especially prone to relapse into substance abuse following treatment. It is harder for a depressed alcoholic to stay off the bottle than a non-depressed alcoholic.
Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health Disorders
At Chicago Rehab Center, we maintain the ability to treat both the underlying and the overlying disorder. This requires the deployment of the clinical, holistic, medical, and extended care modalities that define our approach to integrated medicine. We may deploy antidepressant medication and horticultural therapy for chronic depression, and talk therapy plus sober companionship for alcoholism. There are infinite variations on the bespoke and integrated treatment plans available. The exact addiction and mental health treatment methods depend on our team of experts’ diagnosis–through rigorous, compassionate, and evidence-based analyses–of the intersection of disorders in a patient. Once we’ve determined the cause, we can treat the effects.
Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap
Dr. Beth Dunlap, a board-certified addiction medicine and family medicine physician, is the medical director at CRC Institute, where she is responsible for overseeing all the integrated medical services at the Institute. Beth completed medical school, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern University, where she continues to serve on the faculty as a member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She has extensive experience in addiction medicine at all levels of care, and her clinical interests include integrated primary care and addiction medicine, harm reduction, and medication-assisted treatment.