It’s the perfect storm of mental, physical, and emotional turmoil. Co-occurring disorders, or what’s also referred to as a dual diagnosis, is a physical and mental condition that exists when an individual suffers from not one, but two serious problems simultaneously. The most common form of co-occurring disorders is a person who is not only afflicted with severe and recurring depression and/or anxiety, but who is also struggling with a substance abuse problem. But according to dual diagnosis hotline worker and writer, Timothy Galeas, co-occurring conditions can be found in lots of different insidious combinations, including eating disorders, or a person who’s struggling with bi-polar syndrome who is also attempting to self-medicate by abusing cocaine, meth, heroin, alcohol, and more.
While experts agree that comprehensive integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders is far more likely to cure the sick patient, some doctors are still attempting to treat one problem at a time. Says Galeas, recent studies have proven, however, that focusing only one primary issue rarely results in successfully eradicating the underlying causes of both. But the same studies show that by attacking the two problems concurrently, patients have a far better chance at full recovery from both addiction and mental/emotional impairment. What’s more, sobriety goes hand in hand with a happier, more confident individual.
The reality behind co-occurring disorders
The experts will tell you co-occurring disorders aren’t limited to food issues, drug problems, depression, or alcohol abuse. The disorders vary widely. Researchers also say that the root cause of the many mental health and substance abuse problems is an inability to deal with deep emotional pain. According the to the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, 37% of all known alcohol abusers and 53% of drug and illicit substance abusers are presently suffering from a mental illness or illnesses. Taken conversely, 29% of those diagnosed with a mental disorder abuse alcohol and/or drugs.
Treating co-occurring disorders one at a time is ineffective
While treating co-occurring disorders one at a time has proven ineffective for the afflicted patient, historical precedent has it that practitioners have rarely treated dual diagnosis problems at the same time. Not too long ago, physicians attempted to pinpoint which condition was posing the greatest threat to the patient, and said condition was then given treatment priority. That’s not to say the secondary condition wasn’t treated also, but only once the primary condition was considered under control.
A shortage of medical experts
The dependency on sequential care for co-occurring disorders was originally attributed to a shortage of medical experts. While one doctor was an expert at treating dependency, he or she might have very little knowledge about how to stabilize an alcohol or drug abuse problem. That’s why only one issue was treated at a time while the other might get ignored altogether. For instance, an alcoholic might be treated only for his or her alcoholism simply because of the obvious physical toll it can take on the human body. If the patient was also suffering from depression, an issue which is not as physical, it might be neglected.
Galeas further points out that preferential treatment of a single condition would inevitably lead to the further deterioration of the second condition. Further exacerbating the situation, was that this deterioration of the second condition would lead to problems with the treatment of the primary condition.
Co-occurring disorders often come from the same source
A co-occurring disorder could very well have come about from the same underlying cause, like a seriously traumatic event occurring in a person’s private life. The addiction to alcohol and drugs might be the result of the patient attempting to self-medicate. For instance, celebrated 20th century author, Ernest Hemingway was nearly killed during WWI when an Austrian shell exploded close by. The author was said to have undergone a near death experience which would go on to haunt him for the rest of his life. He drank heavily for many decades and eventually succumbed to his severe depression, which was treated by electro-shock therapy while the alcoholism went largely untreated. He would eventually die by suicide. This is one of the major reasons that today, in the early 21st century, sequential treatment is slowly but surly being replaced by integrated treatment whereby both conditions are considered primary and treated simultaneously.
Seek medical help immediately
If you and/or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness while at the same time, abusing drugs and alcohol, don’t attempt to treat it on your own. It’s essential that the medical experts get at the root of both problems, or else both conditions are only going to worsen. Once both conditions are entirely out of control, the results can be deadly, as in the case of suicide. Seek out a mental health or drug abuse hotline as soon as you can. That will be your first essential step in getting the integrated care for yours or a loved one’s co-occurring disorders.