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Co-Occurring Disorders Treatment Overview

53% of people who abuse drugs will also experience a mental health problem at some point, and this is nearly 4 times the average for the non drug abusing community; and helps somewhat to understand the factors that may lead to addiction and substance abuse.

Concurrent mental health problems and addiction make the treatment of the addiction far more complex, and there can be a continuum along which either the metal health problem or addiction may be more harmful. It is important to realize that all mental health problems differ in their treatment requirements and symptomology, and a person with anxiety, will not likely act in the same way as someone with a borderline personality disorder or someone with depression. Accurate pre treatment assessment of the concurrent mental health problem and addiction is the best way to determine the most appropriate treatment needed, and as such a number of professionals may need to be involved in the diagnosis.

Getting Help

Anyone suffering through a concurrent mental health and addiction problem needs help even more desperately than a mentally healthy substance abuser. The stakes are significantly higher, and the social and physical cost of the substance abuse can grow quickly. A concurrent disorder is more difficult to diagnose and treat, but the earlier treatment is initiated, the better the prognosis is.

Since substance abuse makes pharmaceutical compliance less likely, and relapse to an addiction can also trigger relapse to mental health deficits, after care, family support, and behavioral strategies that minimize the temptations to use are very important. A long term residential rehabilitation program can give the addict the tools they'll need to avoid temptation, can educate the family of the supportive role they can play in relapse prevention, and ensure that appropriate psychiatric medications are prescribed, and taken, during the initial period of substance abuse recovery.

With appropriate treatment, concurrent mental health and addictions problems can be beaten.

Treatment Options

The most appropriate treatment will depend on the severity of the addiction when compared to the severity of the underlying mental health problem. Many people may find effective treatment at a conventional drug and alcohol rehab facility, while those with more serious underlying mental health issues may need to be hospitalized in a facility more organized for psychiatric treatment. In either case, appropriate diagnosis and assessment is crucial, and the diagnosis should involve care and caseworkers in the patient's history, as well as mental health and addictions specialists at the period of pre intake evaluation.

The treatment required will again vary depending on the type of concurrent disorder, and often pharmaceutical psychiatric medications can be used to reduce mental health symptoms, allowing the addicted person to effectively participate in a residential rehab facility for their substance abuse problems.

Addicts deemed appropriate candidates for conventional residential rehab facilities will benefit from the normal comprehensive addictions treatment programming, provided they are offered additional mental health services, additional therapies, and offered appropriately monitored psychiatric and pharmaceutical treatment during the period of residential rehabilitation.

Co-Occurring Therapies

If during the pre intake assessment, it is determined that the addict's mental health problems can be adequately controlled through compliance with psychiatric medications, and they are considered an appropriate candidate for a residential rehab facility, then they will undergo a conventional rehab experience, with additional programming designed to meet the needs of their additional challenges. Rehabilitation for people with concurrent mental health and addictions disorders is certainly possible, but it tends to require longer and more intensive rehab and therapy than when dealing with addictions alone.

People dealing with concurrent mental health and addiction difficulties generally recover better if the addiction and substance abuse is treated first, but if at any point in the rehabilitation the mental health problems get significantly worse, the focus of treatment may need to be shifted back towards the mental health problems.

The treatment for mental health problems and addiction problems are primarily fourfold and are, pharmaceutical management of mental health symptoms, individual and group therapy, education and cognitive therapy, and family involvement. With the exception of pharmaceutical psychiatric symptoms management, the rehabilitation treatment is not substantially different than for those people with addictions alone, but is undertaken with an awareness and consideration of the concurrent disorder.


Concurrent mental health problems and addiction make the treatment of either problem more complex and challenging, and there may be a number of internal causes that increase the abuse.

Many people suffering with a mental health disorder may use drugs or alcohol to "self medicate" and escape the reality of their problems through intoxication. While immediately effective, substance abuse always aggravates the underlying condition, and as such serves only to deepen the basal problem, which is the mental health deficit.

Substance abuse may also mimic many of the normal symptoms of certain mental health disorders. People with certain disorders may exhibit symptoms very similar to the behaviors shown through addiction and drug abuse, and as such the substance abuse may obscure the existence of the mental health problem, and delay appropriate treatment for that condition.

Additionally, abusing drugs or alcohol will often increase the severity of the underlying condition, and unfortunately, drug or alcohol abuse also serves to reduce the effectiveness of any prescribed psychiatric medications, further compounding the severity of the condition.

Substance abuse may also increases the probability of non compliance with psychiatric medications, and when relapse occurs with either the mental health problem, or the substance use, it can often trigger concurrent relapse with the other problem.

The treatment of people with concurrent mental health disorders and addiction is far more complex, tends to take longer, and will require cooperation between mental health professionals and addictions experts. Because mental health problems can exacerbate the severity and behaviors of an addiction, and mental health deficits can cause increasing abuse, it is vital to provide appropriate and comprehensive treatment whenever possible for individuals suffering this concurrent disorder syndrome.

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