Due to the stigma associated with addiction not many addicts feel comfortable telling their doctor they have a drug or alcohol abuse addiction. Whether it is shooting heroin or abusing their pain medication, no one wants to tell their doctor they are suffering in active addiction. When active addiction is at its worst, not many people have primary care doctors to go to. This stigma of addiction makes it difficult for your doctor to diagnose co-occurring disorders.
What is a Co-Occurring Disorder (Dual Diagnosis)?
A person who is suffering from a co-occurring disorder has a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder. Another term for this is a dual diagnosis. When it comes to addiction, it is truly difficult to determine what came first. It’s very common for a person to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol if they are already experiencing symptoms of a mood or anxiety disorder and are not properly diagnosed. This could include depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or anxiety disorder.
Those with a mood or anxiety disorder might think doing drugs or alcohol can numb their feelings or help them cope with their PTSD symptoms. Because the person does not understand that they have a mental health disorder, they believe the effects of alcohol or drugs is the solution to their problems. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 50 percent of people have a severe mental disorder and also suffer from a substance abuse disorder. This behavior of self-medicating with mind-altering substances causes dependency, which them results in a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). It is important to understand that people do not purposely do this to themselves, they just seek a solution for an undiagnosed mental health disorder.
In fact, as reported by Behavioral Health Evolution, using drugs and alcohol will only make your particular mental health disorder worse. Therefore, people who are suffering from a mental health disorder should seek professional help before they develop an addiction to drugs. A proper diagnose will help you live a healthier lifestyle, a lifestyle without substance abuse as a solution.
Why are Co-Occurring Disorders Hard to Diagnose?
As suggested before, it can be hard for a doctor to accurately diagnose their patient who has a co-occurring disorder. The self-medicating theory of how addictions develop only works if the person has a mental health disorder before they start the patterns of abuse. What makes it so hard for doctors to diagnose a co-occurring disorder is if the substance use disorder develops first.
Let’s entertain this scenario.
Say a person begins to abuse a substance like crystal meth or crack cocaine. Due to their heavy use and abuse they begin to develop PTSD, serve depression, or anxiety disorders from the life choices they begin to make under the influence. Naturally, they begin to feel worse about themselves and the situation they are in, so they increase their amount they abuse to try and cope with what is going on.
This scenario is common is the cycle of addiction, so what came first, the mental health disorder or the Substance use disorder?
To further the point, how does a doctor know what came first?
If they begin to treat the substance abuse addiction, will the mental health disorder symptoms decrease?
This conundrum is what makes a proper diagnosis so difficult. There is only one solution and that is to treat both the co-occurring disorders at the same time at a dual diagnosis treatment center.
Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment
If you have a co-occurring disorder, finding a rehab treatment center that has medical professionals that are trained in co-occurring diagnosis is more important than any amenity they may have. A therapist that monitors the mental health disorder as a person gets sober will prevent exchanging one substance to depend on for another. No one wants to go into treatment with an alcohol abuse problem and wake out depending on antidepressants for the rest of their life when the need for antidepressants was directly correlated to the amount of alcohol they were consuming and no longer needing.
Unfortunately, getting to this point where you can get quality treatment for the co-occurring disorders is not that easy. You could end up facing several challenges when you seek professional help, so it’s always best to know what to expect when you are trying to get your life back.
Challenges in Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people who have a mental health disorder interfering with the quality of their life depend to heavily on the self-medicating with drugs and alcohol because it is an easy solution and to be honest, the only socially acceptable solution due to the stigma surrounding Addiction and substance abuse. In today’s society, a person can not just go to their HR director at their job and explain they need time off to deal with their alcoholism and severe PTSD. They would be fired and quickly replaced.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is for eligible employees to take job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage. This policy varies from employer to employer; however, it is an option when treatment is needed with the promise of your job when you complete a program.
Even though employment is a challenge it is not the only one. Of course, a person might also deny they have a drug or alcohol addiction since they can excuse it as their own sense of treatment for their mental health disorder. This type of reasoning could prevent them from acknowledging their drug addiction and cause them to refuse any rehab treatment.
This coping mechanism of denial can also make the mental health disorder’s symptoms much worse. When a person stops using drugs and alcohol, it can intensify those mental health symptoms more than usual. Your body is used to those drugs affecting your mental state. The lack of mind-altering substances can wreak havoc when you are no longer under the influence. This make relapse a serious danger and when there is relapse there is an increase in risking an overdose.
Treating Co-Occurring Disorders
So, you might be wondering: what type of treatment plan is more effective and the best one for you?
An integrated treatment plan can be beneficial in treating people who have co-occurring disorders. According to Behavioral Health Evolution, an effective treatment plan involves both disorders being treated at the same time, place, and by the same treatment team. If your doctor decides only to treat one disorder and not the other, relapse in the first year of sobriety drastically increases.
Co-occurring disorder treatment allows your doctor to diagnose and treat both disorders. Monitor them both to determine which came first and then provide or suggest a long-term aftercare treatment plan. Having a qualified therapist for dual diagnosis treatment is essential in making sure that both of them are being handled properly is important for long lasting recovery.
Of course, this could also take some time when you go to rehab, so be prepared for a lengthy time to recover. As stated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, you need to have a long-term treatment plan to fully recover and prevent future relapses from happening.
Everyone is different when it comes to their Substance Use Disorders and mental health needs. This makes individualized treatment in rehab one of the most important aspects to consider when looking for the right treatment center for you. The first step is usually the hardest, but the best part about that is, you don’t have to do it alone anymore.