The Importance of Treating Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Together

When working to recover from a substance use disorder (SUD), such as chronic alcoholism, healing is only effective if you address all of the factors which impact substance use. For those who have co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, the conditions are symbiotic. It is impossible to heal from one without treating and healing the other. Therefore, it is essential to treat a SUD and a mental health disorder simultaneously.

Treating a SUD

Learning how to beat addiction involves many life changes. The first step is to stop using substances. The body and brain must adjust to significant changes as they go through the detoxification process. As with many substances, there will be withdrawal symptoms that are less intense during the initial stages of treatment, but may be felt long-term. Within treatment, withdrawals can be addressed.

The real work of treatment begins with therapy and education. Lessons on how to improve the mental, physical and emotional aspects of addiction will be addressed in treatment. Learning how to manage cravings or learning about relapse prevention is as important as learning how to function without substances. In addition to clinical treatment, support systems after treatment, such as sponsors and group meetings, can be crucial to long-term success.

Treating a Mental Health Disorder

One of the reasons that mental health was treated separately from alcohol and drug addiction is that many mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, sometimes require taking therapeutic medications. For many years, this was frowned upon due to the stigma surrounding even prescription drug use. However, now it is well documented that treating a mental health disorder with the proper medications can improve the outcome of both the mental health disorder and SUD treatment.

Therapy is a cornerstone of treating a mental health disorder. Within therapy, patients can learn more about their mental health disorder, its symptoms, as well as how to cope and to live in emotionally healthy ways. Behaviors and thought patterns associated with the mental health disorder can be analyzed and replaced with new thinking and behaviors.

The Symbiotic Relationship of Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders, when there is both a SUD and a mental health disorder simultaneously, are very common. Many mental health disorders manifest themselves beginning in the early teens. Substance abuse is commonly the result of the behaviors and symptoms of a mental health disorder, often undiagnosed and untreated.

The symbiotic relationship extends to recovery, as those with a co-occurring disorder are more likely to relapse if the mental health is not treated simultaneously. Likewise, the mental health disorder can worsen if the SUD is not treated simultaneously. The dangers involved in both relapse of a SUD or worsening of a mental health disorder can be avoided with the appropriate treatment. 

The Concept of Self-Medication

The main reason that chronic alcoholism or substance abuse occurs in those with co-occurring disorders is due to the concept of self-medication. Typically, unaware of why they are having symptoms and behaviors caused by mental illness, people will seek drugs or alcohol to try to help themselves. This is often referred to as self-medicating. 

Unfortunately, substance abuse exacerbates the symptoms of a mental illness and brings with it a whole new set of complications that will impact cognitive skills, behaviors, the ability to participate in life, sleep and more. What began as an effort to self-medicate can create a whole new set of symptoms. In addition to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health symptoms, it is necessary to learn how to beat addictions.

Finding Support for Both Disorders

Within treatment programs, there is growing support for the integrated treatment of co-occurring disorders. Therapy can address both the mental health disorder and SUD. Medications to balance the chemicals in the brain for those with mental health diagnoses are not usually addictive and can help significantly to reduce the symptoms of both diagnoses. 

Medical professionals work together with therapists and other clinicians to help create a plan to heal from both disorders. Building an effective support network of friends, families, doctors, therapists, mentors or sponsors, and attending group meetings, can help to reinforce treatment well into recovery and beyond. While healing from a co-occurring diagnosis can seem daunting, when there is proper support beginning in early treatment and extending into a lifetime of recovery, it is possible to live a healthy and productive life. 

Integrated treatment for both a SUD and a mental health diagnosis has become more accessible as information has become available regarding the symbiotic relationship of both disorders. At DiscoveryMD, we provide treatment for co-occurring diagnosis and can help build the support network you need to heal. Our caring and compassionate staff can help you find wellness, and the flexibility of our outpatient treatment program can help you get your life back on track. There is no need to be discouraged if you have a co-occurring disorder. Contact us to find out how you can take control of your mental health and your SUD simultaneously. 

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