Co-Occurring Disorders: Challenges & Treatments

The existence of mental health disorders along with substance abuse — known as “co-occurring disorders” — affect over 8 million adults in the U.S. Co-occurring disorders pose unique challenges to treatment teams, and relatively few programs are equipped to assess, diagnose and treat them. People diagnosed with depression, PTSD, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or other significant personality disorders or psychiatric conditions have higher rates of substance abuse than the general population. In fact, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that substance abuse is two times as prevalent among individuals suffering from serious psychiatric disabilities.

Why are substance abuse disorders so common among people with mental illness?

  • Brain chemistry imbalances predispose certain individuals to both mental health and substance abuse disorders.
  • Mental illness and substance abuse may run in the family, increasing the risk of acquiring both disorders through heredity
  • Drugs or alcohol may be used to self-medicate, or to manage symptoms if those symptoms aren’t properly treated
  • Drug or alcohol abuse may aggravate the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder or trigger the onset of a latent psychiatric illness

“Integrated Programs” offer specialized treatment for individuals living with co-occurring disorders. They understand that affected individuals require dedicated, intensive and highly personal treatment programs and interventions. Truly integrated programs provide tailored and individualized treatment plans and services. They anticipate and respond to each patient’s diagnosis, medical history, psychological history, substance abuse history, and emotional needs.

Effective Treatment Methods

Effective treatment of co-occurring disorders begins with a complete neuropsychological evaluation designed to determine each patient’s needs, strengths, beliefs, barriers, goals and objectives. Using this vital biopsychosocial information, treatment teams develop specialized care plans that address substance abuse and psychiatric issues concurrently.

Best practice methods for service delivery in an integrated treatment setting include:

  • Focused individual therapy with a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist to address the symptoms and challenges of mental health issues
  • Behavioral modification therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy) to teach coping skills and increase self-awareness and relapse prevention
  • Medication Assisted Treatment(s) to assist in the management of psychiatric symptoms or reduce cravings for alcohol and/or drugs
  • Group therapy with peers who are also faced with co-occurring challenges
  • Comprehensive family education and counseling to help loved ones understand the scope, nature, and outcomes of co-occurring disorders
  • Spiritual and emotional skills-training
  • Holistic and experiential therapies — including meditation, yoga, equine-assisted therapy, creative therapies, and/or other recreational therapies — to encourage self-expression

What Makes the Di fference?

Clinicians and professionals treating patients with co-occurring disorders must educate, encourage and empower individuals through every phase of the treatment and recovery continuum. Co-occurring conditions pose specific obstacles to treatment and recovery. Lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, fear and vulnerability, emotional volatility, and other symptoms make treatment all the more delicate and complex. Effective programs take a collaborative approach to care, working closely with patients to motivate and assist them along the path of lifelong health, wellness and recovery.

The Integrated Checklist

Co-occurring disorders are common; however, the availability of truly integrated programs is disproportionately limited. Up to 50% of patients in treatment for psychiatric issues have a concurrent substance abuse disorder, according to Psychiatric News, yet few of them will receive treatment for both disorders at the same time. If you or a loved one are looking for help, consider the following essential pillars of a truly Integrated Program:

  • Treatment services for both mental health and substance abuse are provided at the same facility
  • Mental health professionals, physicians, and therapists are cross-trained in providing mental health services and substance abuse treatment
  • Treatment teams maintain an open attitude toward the use of psychiatric medication
  • A full range of recovery services are provided to facilitate a transition through the continuum of care

Integrated Treatment Programs in PA

Recovery is a lifelong process of awareness, growth and discovery. At Bradford Recovery Center – an integrated Pennsylvania drug rehab center – we treat and support patients with co-occurring diagnoses from detoxification and rehabilitation, to family therapy, alumni services, and recovery support. If you need help for yourself or a loved one, call today for a free integrated assessment.