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Why Co-Occurring Disorders Can Be Challenging to Treat

Addiction can exist alongside mental health concerns. When this happens, the combination is known as a co-occurring disorder or a concurrent disorder. When this occurs, a subsequent treatment plan is carefully prepared in conjunction with addiction treatment. There can oftentimes be challenges in the execution of co-occurring disorder treatment due to the complexities and risk factors that are present in each of the specific disorders experienced by the patient.

According to research, 1.7% of Canadians, which equates to roughly 435,000 individuals, experience concurrent anxiety or mood disorders and struggles with substance abuse each year. Experiencing concurrent disorders can be a debilitating life experience that may bear severe complications in mental and physical health, and this is why it is crucial to seek proper co-occurring disorder treatment.

Let’s look at the reasons why co-occurring disorder treatment can be deemed challenging.

A woman struggles with addiction

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment: What Is It? 

In some cases, individuals struggling with substance abuse and misuse may develop a mental health issue as a result of their habit and mental stress. For other scenarios, individuals experiencing mental health issues may abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms. Co-occurring disorder treatment is an umbrella term for a set of integrative therapies used to address concurrent substance use disorders and mental health concerns.

A co-occurring disorder treatment plan is centered around the specific combination of concerns that a patient may be experiencing.

There are five main clusters of concurrent disorder symptoms. These include:

  1. Substance use disorder combined with mood and anxiety disorder (panic, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder).
  2. Substance use disorder combined with personality disorder (histrionic, schizoid, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive, and borderline personality disorder).
  3. Substance use disorder combined with severe and persistent mental health disorders (schizophrenia or bipolar disorder).
  4. Substance use disorder combined with eating disorders (anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa).
  5. Behavioural addiction (compulsive gambling or compulsive sexual behaviours) combined with mental health concerns.

Why Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Is Challenging 

When medical science discovered links between mental health disorders and addiction, the term “co-occurring” was coined to indicate the co-existence of disorders alongside addiction. While this scenario is common, its actual treatment hasn’t been around for very long. Due to its complex nature, research regarding the best methods of co-occurring disorder treatment is still being performed today. However, there has been increased awareness and continuous innovation to apply the most efficient approaches for the treatment of concurrent disorders.                     

In the past, the treatment of addiction and mental health concerns were addressed separately. As an example, if an individual is suffering from substance abuse and has been found to have a co-occurring disorder, such as anxiety, they would need to finish their drug abuse treatment before addressing their anxiety symptoms.  

Let’s look at the challenges of co-occurring disorder treatment plans:

The Challenges of Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment 

The main challenge of co-occurring disorder treatment lies on the patient’s end to self-perpetuate, or self-medicate, without being aware of the concurrent concern. For example, a person who is depressed might drink more or use more drugs to cope with their feelings of depression. They may realize that they have developed a substance abuse disorder and feel additional depression surrounding the situation. If they try to quit or go “cold turkey” on their own without experiencing any progress, they may continue to consume alcohol or drugs.

Unrelated co-occurring disorders can also lead a person to self-medicate with mind-altering substances. Individuals with certain disorders seek psychoactive substances to ease or eliminate symptoms of their co-occurring disorders.

Another example is when a person feels anxious being away from a certain activity. To cure this anxiety, they tend to perform the activity to remove distressing emotions. Once they stop doing this certain activity in order to fulfill other needs, they revert back to doing the same thing again. As a result, they fall behind on self-care or experience social isolation that can worsen their anxiety. Again, they go back to doing the activity to try to calm the emotional irritability. In this example, a co-occurring disorder involves two issues in one complex situation, making it even more challenging to treat. 

Co-occurring disorder treatment is challenging because it’s difficult enough to treat a mental health concern or addiction on their own. Trying to overcome both at the same time is even harder, not only because there is twice the work to be done, but also because the source of addiction or mental health concern, on their own, remains intact. With the right support and treatment team behind you, both concerns can be addressed.

Let’s look at examples of co-occurring disorder treatment methods:

Co-occurring disorder treatment through group therapy

Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment: How It Is Done 

Co-occurring disorder treatment is challenging due to the underlying mental health concern that could remain untreated. If a patient receives treatment for addiction but not their co-occurring mental health disorder, then the probability of relapse is greatly increased. This can happen because the individual has not learned proper coping strategies for their mental health disorder and revert back to their old patterns and behaviours to manage their symptoms.                                                                                                                                                                                         

This is why a holistic approach needs to be the main treatment method for co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders. When approached as two important aspects of one bigger issue, rather than addressing two separate concerns, progress is highly attainable.                                                                                                                                       

The first step is to define the connection of both concerns, then treating the co-occurring disorder as a single condition. The efficacy of co-occurring disorder treatment heavily relies on the discovery of the combination of concerns, and this is why it is important to seek professional help once symptoms start to show.

Mental health experts understand the significance of having an integrative plan for co-occurring disorder treatment to address specific concerns. A combination of psychiatric and addiction treatment can:

  • Reduce relapse rates for individuals in recovery;
  • Lower suicide rates; and
  • Promote long-term abstinence.

Freedom From Addiction’s co-occurring disorder treatment plans include:

Alongside these integral treatment approaches, our co-occurring disorder treatment plans involve psychotherapy, such as family programs and relapse prevention, to ensure that patients get the support they need from their family, friends, and peers.                                                                                                                                                                       

Before seeking co-occurring disorder treatment, it is important to make sure that the addiction treatment facility is fully equipped to meet and address the mosaic of needs that are present in co-occurring conditions. Freedom From Addiction is one of the most innovative treatment homes in Canada, and our integrated, holistic approach to co-occurring disorders treatment ensures that our patients get the proper care that is tailored to meet their specific needs.

Seeking Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment 

The trained psychotherapists at Freedom From Addiction are knowledgeable about the psychology and the pathology of behaviour that co-occurring disorder patients possess. Our individualized treatment plans offer long-term, sustainable results.                                                                                                                                                                             

For more information about our co-occurring disorder treatments, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. A member of our team will get back to you shortly. Call us today to learn more about our personalized programs, including our methods to ensure continuing care. 

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