What It Means To Be Comorbid, And Why It Matters
A co-occurring disorder, also formerly known as a “dual diagnosis”, refers to a separate mental illness that exists alongside a substance abuse disorder. Dual diagnoses are officially characterized when someone meets the criteria for more than one mental illness according to the DSM-5, a manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders nationwide.
Comorbidity has many “recipes”. For example, someone might develop a substance use disorder because using drugs masks some of their deepest fears (indicative of an anxiety disorder). Or, maybe someone strives to bury bothersome memories (reminiscent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Or, sometimes mental illnesses and substance use disorders form with no correlation between one and the other. We’ll discuss more of the multiple combinations of co-occurring disorders below.
When two mental illnesses occur together, they work as catalysts for each others’ destructive natures. Like the cleverest partners in crime, comorbid mental illnesses can drag (and keep) someone in the depths of their darkness. Although crawling out of these depths isn’t easy, it is possible with the right course of treatment.
Why These Disorders Often Co-Occur
Despite the amount of research scientists have done over the past couple of decades, addiction remains an elusive disease with obvious consequences – but less apparent roots.
Some researchers will claim alcoholism stems from trauma and environmental factors, while some doctors claim it’s all due to genetic predisposition. The truth is, they’re probably both right.
However, we do know that when addiction exists with another mental illness, it can be that much harder to treat and overcome. Here are three points to consider about Co-Occurring disorders and their causes:
Mental illnesses are identified as “risk factors” for developing an addiction, and can directly lead to drug and alcohol abuse (many people call this “self-medicating”)
Both mental illnesses and addiction can stem from genetic vulnerability and exposure to trauma
Some regions of the brain that are affected by addiction, such as the circuitry responsible for regulating dopamine, are also affected by mental illnesses
Common Types Of Co-Occurring Disorders
The compounding effects caused by having a mental illness and an addiction can be downright scary. Most professionals in the industry of addiction recovery will tell you simply that, to work on one, you must work on all. To work on something, though, you first have to identify it.
Some of the most common mental illnesses in the United States that can occur alongside of a Substance Use Disorder are:
Why Does It Help To Know If You’re Comorbid In Rehab?
Unfortunately, the effects of using drugs and alcohol can mimic many of the mental illness symptoms mentioned above, making it hard to make a proper diagnosis while an addict isn’t sober.
To make the right diagnosis, Hotel California by the Sea’s treatment program involves meeting 1-on-1 with a trained psychiatric physician for an initial consultation. However, throughout the client’s entire journey here, routine follow-ups are necessary to monitor their recovery and progress.
Understanding whether someone is comorbid while still in treatment can allow them to address their destructive internal processes adequately free from the effects of substances. Clients will also come to understand how their mental illness might relate to their addiction and determine what specific therapies might be best for them.
For example, medication might be right for the treatment of some mental illnesses (and some individuals), but it might not be the best course of action for others. Either way, understanding if you have another mental illness can help you deal with your addiction with more insight, allow you to understand your biggest triggers better, and ideally prevent relapse.
Quick Stats on Dual Diagnosis
The Difficulties Of Assessing Co-occuring Mental Illnesses
As if the brain weren’t complicated enough, withdrawing from drugs and alcohol can cause a lot of brain chemicals to fluctuate abnormally. This can make it confusing to understand which came first – the co-occuring disorder, or the substance abuse disorder.
With proper psychiatric evaluation and medical oversight, Hotel California by the Sea’s clinical team can successfully distinguish what mental illness might lie under the veil of addiction and how to properly treat both.
That’s why it’s best for clients to be monitored for an agreed upon amount of time after getting sober by mental health professionals.
Having more than one mental illness is complicated – we know.
Comorbid addicts and alcoholics face a tough journey full of hard work, but that doesn’t mean recovery is hopeless. Seeking treatment for comorbid disorders and addiction can be even more rewarding for those who set their hearts to embracing an all-encompassing recovery process with a caring treatment team.
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, reach out to Hotel California by the Sea today: