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The Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders Found with Addiction

Person reaching for a pile of pillsAddiction, whether to alcohol, illegal narcotics or prescription medication, is a serious issue that can have a profound effect not only on the person with the addiction, but on their families, friends, and even co-workers.

Addiction has created a certain social stereotype and preconceived assumption about addicts and what kind of people they are.  And while we’ve probably all heard the familiar scenario of recreational use becoming a larger problem, for many the addictive behavior may be a symptom of another, equally serious problem, often in the form of a mental health disorder.

Like Ernest Hemingway or Kurt Cobain, people suffering from PTSD, depression or anxiety may turn to different substances, such as alcohol or narcotics, as a form of “self-medicating.”

Trying to medicate yourself for any serious condition is never a good idea. However when you aren’t aware that you have a treatable condition, and are only trying to make yourself feel better, you will go to great lengths to make the suffering go away.

Once one condition or disorder creates or intensifies another one, the patient is diagnosed with Co-Occurring Disorder, also referred to as Dual Diagnosis.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

According to the American Addiction Centers, a co-occurring disorder is a diagnosis given when someone with substance abuse disorder, aka addiction, also suffers from a mental illness in the form of depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other.

Any combination of a mental health disorder with an addiction disorder will qualify for this diagnosis. These can include but are not limited to prescription drug addiction with anxiety, alcoholism with depression, anorexia with cocaine dependence, PTSD with heroin addiction and more. In each case, one disorder can exist before the other, but can sometimes trigger the other disorder.

When diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, the best course of action involves an integrated treatment plan that can address both the mental health and addiction conditions simultaneously.

Common Co-occurring Disorders

Even though any combination of mental health and addiction disorders can exist, there are some combinations that appear more often than others.

Alcoholism and Antisocial Personality Disorder

People who exhibit antisocial personality disorder often show little to no regard for social standards and tend to ignore the rights and interests of other people. Typical behavior includes manipulative and antagonistic characteristics, with no regard for the law or even their own safety.

Their actions result in no remorse for the outcome and are often initiated on impulse. This disorder is commonly seen with alcoholism.

Marijuana and Schizophrenia

Extensive research by the Harvard Medical School has indicated that marijuana use does NOT cause schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a diagnosed mental disorder where a person may show behavior that is socially inappropriate, may suffer from hallucinations, have diminished social skills, are unable to express emotions maturely, and has difficulty thinking in clear and logical terms.

According to the Brain and Behavior Foundation:

Schizophrenia affects men and women equally. It occurs at similar rates in all ethnic groups around the world. Symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions usually start between ages 16 and 30.

Men tend to experience symptoms earlier than women. Most of the time, people do not get schizophrenia after age 45. Schizophrenia rarely occurs in children, but awareness of childhood-onset schizophrenia is increasing.

It can be difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in teens. This is because the first signs can include a change of friends, a dropping of grades, sleep problems and irritability — all behaviors that are also common among normal teens.

Studies of co-occurring disorders have shown that approximately 50% of schizophrenia patients have a co-occurring addiction.

A November 2014 study of 2,082 people in the journal Medical Psychiatry found there was a “genetic predisposition” to schizophrenia among recreational that showed symptoms of the disorder.

Essentially, it’s thought that while marijuana does not cause schizophrenia to occur, it might advance the symptoms in those who are already susceptible, since diagnosis of symptoms isn’t as easy in the early stages.

Cocaine Addiction and Anxiety Disorders

On its own, cocaine and its medical derivatives can have powerful results both medically and recreationally. When paired with mental health issues, the results can be astounding.

In the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, several psychiatric disorders are described to be brought on by cocaine.

These can include:

  • Delusions
  • Psychosis (an inability to distinguish between reality and hallucinations)
  • Paranoia
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts

The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry conducted a literature search and found that:

Paranoia occurs in 68 to 84 percent of patients using cocaine, and violent behaviors as a result of psychiatric symptoms induced by cocaine occur in 55 percent of patients. In patients who commit suicide, cocaine was found in 18 to 22 percent of cases. Many patients who abuse cocaine to the point of becoming dependent on it were also found to have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder.[15]

According to the Journal, cocaine has such an effect that developing a chemical dependence on it is as much a psychiatric and psychological disorder as it is a biological one. Cocaine can produce a wide range of mental illness symptoms, and it can worsen pre-existing mental disorders or lead to the manifestation of mental health disorders that were hitherto dormant or existed only in the potential.

The Integrated Treatment Model

When a health care provider is faced with treating a co-occurring disorder, the focus needs to be on both the addiction and the mental health condition.

The Integrated Treatment Model is a method that emphasizes the parallels between the treatments for mental health and the 12-Step approach of addiction disorders

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains how the Integrated Treatment Model works:

  • It helps patients consider the impact of their substance abuse.
  • It involves friends and family in the rehabilitation process.
  • It helps patients establish their own goals and shows them how to work towards those goals.
  • It connects them with jobs and other services that can help them get back into normal life following treatment.
  • It provides specific and special co-occurring disorder counseling.

Additionally, prescription anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications can also assist in this process, making coping techniques more effective, and giving relief from chemical imbalances within the brain

Now, more than ever, we have a better understanding of mental health issues and how they affect the body and mind. And, while even 25 years ago a certain stigma was often attached to the idea of seeking mental health treatment, our improved knowledge of how the human brain works under these disorders has made it more acceptable for people to come forward and receive help.

As conditions become more recognizable and treatments become much easier to understand and obtain, early diagnosis and treatment will hopefully begin to reduce the number of co-occurring disorders.

In the meantime, the Integrated Treatment Model represents how much science and research have done to provide hope and relief to patients and their families. It stands as a guide to diagnose, treat and give new life to those suffering unnecessarily from a co-occurring disorder.

Let us help you discover the source of your suffering and put you on the right path towards healing your body and mind. At Alpine Recovery Lodge, you can begin your own journey of recovery, simply by calling us at 877-415-4060.  Make your appointment today.