The subject of co-occurring disorders can be confusing, especially if you’re trying to learn about the symptoms and treatment options. With that said, it’s important to be properly aware and enlightened.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the 4 common disorders, which includes the details you should know.
In the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, millions of adolescents and adults reported having co-occurring disorders. Meaning, they have both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder.
Some may ask: Which came first, the mental health disorder, or the substance abuse disorder? Did someone start using cocaine because it helped them cope with depression? Did someone develop schizophrenia after smoking too much methamphetamine?
For each person, the answer to this question is different. It has been noted that there are three major risk factors for developing co-occurring disorders: genetics, exposure, and adolescence. What may be more important than the origin is to focus on how to recognize and treat co-occurring conditions.
We have listed five common co-occurring disorders below, along with symptoms and the best treatment options.
1. PTSD and Opioids
PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is precisely how it sounds: dealing with stress after a traumatic event. While it may be talked about a lot among combat veterans, PTSD can happen after other traumas. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, car accidents, natural disasters, and any other event have had devastating effects on your physical or psychological well-being.
What better to calm stressful thoughts and actions than an opioid, right? Wrong. Over time, opioids only enhance PTSD symptoms. Because opioids are so addictive, they contribute to PTSD, making it even harder to stop use.
Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers and are released when someone experiences trauma. After a traumatic event, endorphin withdrawal can happen. A person may turn to drugs to get the same feelings the endorphins gave them initially. And the vicious cycle begins.
2. Anxiety and Cocaine
The connection between cocaine and anxiety may seem counterproductive and make you wonder why someone with anxiety would choose a stimulant to help them cope. But when first using cocaine, it provides users with confidence and security; two things anxiety can rip away.
It’s almost like cocaine’s way of tricking a person into addiction. And once they are addicted, cocaine switches the effects it has on the brain. It begins to increase anxiety. A person will have more and more panic attacks. They will become paranoid and show episodes of psychosis. Again, a vicious cycle begins.
3. Schizophrenia and Marijuana
For decades, people diagnosed with schizophrenia have been self-medicating with marijuana. Some report that marijuana calms the rapid thoughts, the hallucinations, and the delusions that define schizophrenia. This may be true, at first.
Over time, marijuana becomes part of the problem, leading to more hallucinations and delusions, which often grow and become dangerous. Some research shows marijuana can cause schizophrenia in those who are genetically predisposed.
One reason for the change may be due to the marijuana purchased by a person with a mental illness. Today, dealers often lace marijuana with heroin, formaldehyde, cocaine, and other chemicals that can induce hallucinations and paranoia. Without knowing it, a user may be addicted to those chemicals as well as marijuana. And although they no longer see benefits from the use of marijuana, they can’t stop using it. They find themselves in that same vicious cycle.
4. Anti-Social and Social Anxiety Disorders and Alcohol
When you hear “anti-social” and “social anxiety,” you may think they are the same. They are not. However, they are both connected to alcohol addiction.
Anti-social disorder is when someone does not think the laws and rules of society apply to them. They enjoy the thrill and excitement they feel when they get away with breaking the rules or participate in risky behaviors.
When they can’t achieve these feelings on their own, they often turn to alcohol, which is known to make you feel uninhibited and gives you the “liquid courage” to do things you may not normally do. This reason is also why some people who have social anxiety turn to alcohol.
If you get anxious or have panic attacks when you must interact with others socially, you may have a social anxiety disorder. Many will tell you they drink to feel more comfortable at social occasions. The alcohol helps them loosen up, be social, laugh, and relax.
Both anti-social and social anxiety disorders worsen over time when alcohol is used to cope. Eventually, they can’t do anything without using alcohol. And yes, the vicious cycle begins.
“The vicious cycle” has been mentioned a lot. Here’s why.
The Vicious Cycle
A person with co-occurring disorders may not see that one may be leading to the other. Their brains are convinced they need each other. For example, someone with attention deficit disorder is wholly convinced they can only function with amphetamines and other stimulants. They don’t realize that the more they use and become addicted to amphetamines, the harder it will be to overcome ADD.
Sure, the medicine helps them in the short term, like assisting them to focus in a classroom. But amphetamines are highly addictive that require larger doses to produce results. The more they take, the more stress they put on their heart, kidneys, and liver.
It is tough to convince an addict that they do not need their drug of choice. That’s why the right treatment protocol must be followed.
Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders
Treatment should include inpatient treatment that is medically supervised and includes detoxing from substances but, at the same time, treating the mental health disorder with medication. Treatment also needs to include psychotherapy, support groups, employment skills, social skills, and alternative therapies.
Finally, supportive housing, like a sober living home, is critical. Anyone entering recovery, especially with co-occurring disorders, need time to practice living a sober life while also taking care of their mental health the right way.
Starting treatment for co-occurring disorders involves reaching out to a treatment facility with all-inclusive, comprehensive programs to support someone from detox to sober living to outpatient services.
Integrated treatment plans reduce the likelihood of relapse.