Content Reviewed by Jennifer Wheeler, Clinical & Community Outreach
Co-occurring mental health disorders are common with addiction. Some of these disorders are present initially, and substances are used to try to self-medicate the symptoms. Other mental health disorders occur because of acute or long-term substance use. While there are many different co-occurring disorders, some are more prevalent than others. What are the four most common co-occurring disorders?
# 1 Depression
Because depression can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors, it is particularly common with chronic alcoholism and drug use. Depression can be short-term, usually caused by environmental factors, or long-lasting, requiring lifelong treatment. Medical intervention should be sought if symptoms such as these last two weeks or longer:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness or restlessness
- Irritability or being easily frustrated
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or helpless
- Loss of interest in preferred activities
- Lack of concentration or memory
- Sleep disturbances, including sleeping too much or insomnia
- Fatigue or decreased energy
- Changes in weight and/or appetite
- Unexplained headaches, digestive issues or other physical symptoms
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
The highest risk is obviously suicide, which is why seeking treatment as soon as possible is so important. Substance use can exacerbate depression symptoms and increase suicidality.
# 2 Anxiety
While there are many forms of anxiety and many causes, substance abuse can certainly create or aggravate your levels of anxiety. Long-term drug use or chronic alcoholism can increase the risk for developing or worsening anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling agitated, restless, anxious or irritable
- Rapid heart rate or breathing
- Muscle tension or heavy sweating
- Feelings of panic, dread or danger
- Being easily fatigued or feeling weak
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Digestive problems or changes in appetite
- Irrational worries or avoidance of ordinary things
# 3 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD symptoms typically begin in childhood and often go undetected or untreated until the symptoms are no longer age-appropriate. Those with ADHD often struggle in school and interpersonal relationships, which impact self-esteem. Self-medication is very common with ADHD to both escape the symptoms and the consequences of the disorder.
The word “hyperactivity” in ADHD is misleading, because many with ADHD do not have any hyperactive symptoms. A diagnosis is made based on symptoms evident in one or more of three categories:
- Inattention – difficulty concentrating, staying on task, focusing, being organized or remembering.
- Hyperactivity – excessive movement such as restlessness, fidgeting, tapping or talking out of turn or too much.
- Impulsivity – acting without thinking or having little to no self-control, often unable to delay gratification, often acting without thinking about consequences.
# 4 Bipolar Disorder
Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder consists of periods of both depression and mania or hypomania. Bipolar disorder is very common with addiction, both for self-medication of existing symptoms and for onset due to substance abuse.
Bipolar disorder is also known as a mood disorder due to the pendulum swing of mood from manic, or elevated, to depressed. Patients can also experience mixed moods or rapid cycling, which can be more difficult to diagnose and treat. Depressive symptoms are similar to those listed above, while manic symptoms include:
- Elevated mood
- Rapid or pressured speech
- Less need for sleep or food
- Racing thoughts
- Increased creativity or productivity
- Risk-taking behaviors
Along with the aforementioned risk of suicidality along with depression, manic behaviors carry additional risks, particularly risk-taking behaviors. Treatment is very important to stabilize moods, especially with co-occurring addiction.
How Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated?
Whether you have an addiction and a co-occurring diagnosis of depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder or any combination of these, the most important aspect of treatment is to treat the addiction and mental health diagnosis simultaneously. When you try to treat the addiction only, the co-occurring disorder is very likely to cause an addiction relapse. When you treat the mental health diagnosis alone, substance use can render the treatment ineffective and can even be harmful or fatal with certain treatments.
Just as you would go to a specialist for any other medical diagnosis, a mental health disorder requires a specialist called a psychiatrist. Forget the stigma surrounding psychiatry—these medical doctors are specialists for your mental health. Addiction treatment facilities that provide care for co-occurring disorders will offer psychiatric evaluations and management as well as individual psychotherapy while you are in treatment. Just like recovery from substance abuse is a lifelong commitment, so is treatment for mental health.
Treatments for mental health disorders include medications, most of which are non-addictive. Other treatments are similar to recommendations for addiction–talk therapy, exercise, meditation and/or yoga, good nutrition and more. Most of what you will do to recover from substance abuse is also good for your overall mental health; you will just need to add visits to your doctor and possibly medication management.
Treating co-occurring disorders simultaneously is the key to both recovery from addiction and experiencing long-term mental health. Co-occurring disorders are treated at DiscoveryMD. Contact us today to find out how to begin your new life.