According to a publication by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “About half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.” With a staggering statistic like that, it is not surprising that more and more recovery centers are now focussing on treating the comorbidities of mental health and addiction.
Issues of addiction often exist in tandem with co-occurring issues of mental health. Therefore, it is crucial to create a recovery plan that accounts for both. Treating both issues at the same time is critical because often the two have become symbiotically entwined. In other words, if one of the co-occurring issues remains untreated, it can cause the seemingly treated issue to resurface.
Many people may not even know that they are struggling with co-occurring issues. This is because one disorder often overshadows the other. For example, someone struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) may not see that they also have a mood disorder. This is because they may equate the symptoms of their mood disorder with those of their SUD. This is why gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the comorbidities of addiction and mental health is so vital. If both issues aren’t treated, then the chances of relapse go up exponentially.
Understanding Co-occurring Issues of Mental Health
To understand co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders, it is first important to understand how common they are. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “People with substance use disorders are at particular risk for developing one or more primary conditions or chronic diseases.” Further, “Approximately 9.2 million adults in the United States have a co-occurring disorder.”
It is important to remember that everyone’s mental health struggles are unique to them. However, there are some relatively common comorbidities of addiction and other mental health disorders. According to SAMHSA, some of these comorbidities are as follows:
- Anxiety disorders: Including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and panic disorder
- Schizophrenia: As well as schizoaffective disorder
- Bipolar disorder: Including bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia
- Depressive disorders: Including major depressive disorder (MDD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
It is also important to remember that co-occurring issues of mental health do not need to appear in any specific order. For example, someone struggling with an anxiety disorder may develop a SUD as a result of self-medication practices. On the other end of the spectrum, someone struggling with SUD may develop an anxiety disorder due to the biological and psychological changes that certain substances can cause in the brain and body.
The Importance of Treating Mental Health Comorbidities in Tandem
As previously mentioned, no individual has the same mental health story. Even with the same diagnosis, an individual will most likely have a different mental health assessment because of different life experiences. It is for this reason that recovery plans be completely customized for each individual. For individuals with comorbidities of addiction and mental health, these recovery plans will most likely have some similar treatment options.
One of the most effective and evidence-based treatment options for co-occurring disorders is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can help get to the underlying issues that may be causing the more visible SUD behaviors. This treatment modality is particularly good for treating comorbidities because these underlying issues often intersect with mental health issues, which also need to be treated.
Another popular and effective way of treating co-occurring disorders is via a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) plan. MAT is particularly effective because utilizing certain medications can stabilize one disorder so the other disorder can garner more attention and focus. For example, when someone is struggling with both an opiate addiction and an anxiety disorder, taking medication (such as methadone for the opiate addiction) will allow a therapist a window to address the anxiety disorder. Otherwise, the withdrawals from the opiate addiction may be too overwhelming or distracting to focus on anything else.
Tending to Mental Health Comorbidities for Long-Term Recovery
If co-occurring issues are treated professionally and properly, there is a good chance that they can be managed and mitigated for long-term recovery. However, it is important to remember that there is no ultimate cure for addiction and its comorbidities. This is why it is important to maintain a long-term recovery plan.
There are many recovery options that can help an individual remain mentally healthy as they go on with their lives. While a recovery plan should always be grounded with evidence-based treatments like psychotherapy or MAT, adding complementary holistic or experiential options can be helpful too. This may include the practice of yoga, breathwork, meditation, or even nature therapy.
Comorbidities of addiction and mental health issues are becoming better understood every day. Also, recovery centers and treatment facilities are now more equipped than ever to handle co-occurring disorders. This is because no one should have to struggle with a mental health disorder, let alone a combination of disorders.
Treatments may include therapies such as group therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). For the addiction side, treatments may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT) as well as community recovery groups such as 12-Step groups. If you feel that you or a loved one may be struggling with substance abuse or mental health, we can help. For more information, please contact The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.