Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders
Natalie Feinblatt, Psy.D.
LACPA Local Advocacy Network (LAN) Chair & Board Member

Image of Dr. Natalie FeinblattCo-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis, refers to the presence of two or more disorders or conditions in an individual simultaneously. These disorders can be mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder, or they can be substance use disorders such as alcoholism or drug addiction.

Co-occurring disorders can be challenging to diagnose and treat, as symptoms from one disorder can often mask or worsen the symptoms of another disorder. However, it is essential to identify and address co-occurring disorders to provide individuals with the best possible treatment and outcomes.

In the United States an estimated 8.4 million adults experience both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder in a given year. Among individuals with a substance abuse disorder, 43% also have a mental health disorder, and among individuals with a mental health disorder, 20% also have a substance abuse disorder.

The causes of co-occurring disorders are complex and can vary. However, several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder simultaneously, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Early exposure to trauma or adversity
  • Chronic stress
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of social support
  • Poverty
  • Limited access to healthcare

The symptoms of co-occurring disorders can be challenging to identify and diagnose, as the symptoms of one disorder can often mask or exacerbate the symptoms of another disorder. However, some common symptoms of co-occurring disorders include:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Increased anxiety or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Increased substance use
  • Withdrawal from social activities or relationships
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

The diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring disorders require a comprehensive and integrated approach. This approach should involve a thorough assessment of an individual's symptoms, medical history, and substance use history. It should also involve collaboration between mental health professionals and addiction specialists to develop a personalized treatment plan.

Treatment for co-occurring disorders typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and support groups. Medications can help manage symptoms of mental health disorders, while psychotherapy can help individuals learn coping skills and address underlying psychological issues. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can provide individuals with social support and help them maintain sobriety.
In some cases, residential treatment or hospitalization may be necessary to provide individuals with intensive treatment and support.

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