One of the most common causes of both addiction and relapse is when a person suffers from some type of mental illness. When a person suffers from the disease of addiction as well as a mental illness, the situation is referred to as co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders cause recovery from addiction to be even more difficult. Although a person may be equipped with a variety of recovery tools to help him avoid using substances, the chemical imbalance experienced from a mental illness can be a very powerful trigger.
An Overview of Co-occurring Disorders
Mental illness can develop at any point in a person’s life. When this happens, the individual’s brain chemistry is altered, rendering him unable to lead a manageable life. Many people who feel these strange emotions are scared or embarrassed about their feelings, but they must acknowledge that it isn’t their fault. Mental illness is no more in a person’s control than a diagnosis of cancer or other terminal illness. The chemicals in the body make it unable for such an individual to maintain happiness, remain calm or control other emotions.
Co-occurring disorders are common amongst addicts for a few different reasons. When many addicts begin to experience feelings of anxiety, depression or other symptoms they can’t control, they find that alcohol or drugs allow them to feel normal. For a brief period of time, they feel like they can exist without battling their emotions and continue to rely on substances to alter the way they feel. Eventually, their minds become dependent on drugs or alcohol, and the natural reaction becomes to turn to substances whenever these unwanted feelings arise.
These types of mental conditions are the leading cause of relapse for those who’ve managed to get sober. Addiction involves a craving for drugs or alcohol that’s often triggered by emotions. When a person has no control over his emotions, it may be extremely difficult to fight off the cravings. Going through aftercare treatment, therapy or 12-step meetings may not be enough to keep the individual sober if he’s experiencing strong emotions he can’t control due to a chemical imbalance resulting from mental illness.
The Most Common of These Disorders
Some of the most common types of mental illnesses are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s difficult for people to accept when they develop one of these illnesses because it’s easy for them to believe they’re just going through a phase and that these emotional struggles will eventually go away. When the feelings start occurring more often than not, it’s important to consult a doctor or psychologist. There are also those who’ve been diagnosed with these types of illnesses, but have become addicted to the medications used to treat them, or were addicted before even being diagnosed.
Anxiety and depression are two mental illnesses at the top of the list, and unfortunately aren’t fully understood by many individuals. Humans are made to have emotions, which are a part of life. Dealing with everyday situations can make a person happy, sad, mad or stressed. These are feelings people begin having at an extremely young age. Anxiety and depression are extreme forms of sadness or stress and often don’t have to be triggered by any type of situation. People frequently go on living with clinical anxiety or depression for quite some time before seeking the help of a doctor or psychologist. Avoiding seeking help for these conditions are a leading factor in why people with co-occurring disorders turn to substance abuse.
One must also be careful if experiencing these conditions while abusing substances, as the damage the substances inflict on the brain can cause further symptoms of anxiety and depression. The addict goes through a cycle of using mind-altering substances and his life becomes unmanageable. His mind isn’t learning how to deal with the feelings he has, thus putting him into deeper forms of sadness and anxiety. The individual may have turned to alcohol or drugs for a long time as a solution to these feelings, but the substances turn into the cause of his problems without him realizing it. This can result in the addict seeking the help of a doctor, but being misdiagnosed if failing to tell the doctor the whole truth about his use of substances.
Treatment Modalities for Co-occurring Disorders
Treatment for addicts with a dual diagnosis must focus on both the addiction as well as the mental illness in order to help ensure sobriety upon leaving the facility. The addict will first go through a medical detoxification to help lessen the symptoms of withdrawal and ensure his safety throughout the process. The body must initially be detoxed for an addiction specialist to evaluate if the person has a legitimate mental illness and determine how to treat it. Once the medical detoxification is complete, the individual can begin therapy and rehabilitation.
Individual therapy for the recovering addict will help the person discover the exact origin of the addiction, whether he had an undiagnosed or diagnosed mental illness. The addiction specialist will provide the addict with healthy alternatives to treat the mental illness by using non-narcotic medications. Some addicts have reservations about getting sober when they’re addicted to the medications that were treating their mental illnesses, but there are non-narcotic medications that treat the symptoms just as well without the risk of being addictive. The most common medications for mental illness to which individuals can become addicted are Xanax and Valium for anxiety and Adderall for ADHD.
It’s important for the recovering addict to maintain regular follow-ups with a doctor once he leaves treatment to ensure that the mental illness is being managed sufficiently and hasn’t progressed. The individual should also attend other programs, such as aftercare or 12-step programs, to continue on the road to recovery.