What are Co-Occurring Disorders?

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Introduction

Many people who suffer from a mental health or substance abuse disorder also have another chronic condition. 

Co-occurring disorders are two or more chronic diseases or conditions that affect an individual at the same time. It is common for someone to not realize they have multiple issues until they are being treated for only one condition. 

The relationship between co-occurring disorders can be complicated. For example, drug and alcohol use can worsen symptoms of a mental illness. 

Similarly, stress from a mental illness can worsen the symptoms of a physical condition like asthma. 

One issue may lead to another issue since many people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol if they do not know how to manage their mental health issues. 

If a person is struggling with both a mental illness and substance abuse issues then they need to receive help in both areas.

 

Table of Contents

Co-occurring disorders are two or more chronic diseases or conditions

Co-occurring disorders are two or more chronic diseases or conditions that affect an individual at the same time. 

Chronic diseases and conditions are those which last over a long period and can cause discomfort or disability. 

Some examples of chronic diseases include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Examples of chronic conditions include depression and asthma.

While it’s not uncommon for people to have both a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety disorder along with a physical illness like diabetes; these co-occurring disorders can make it difficult for someone to manage both problems effectively on their own.

 

These conditions can be in the realm of mental and physical health, such as depression and diabetes

  • Both depression and diabetes are mental health conditions that can also involve physical symptoms.
  • Depression can be a symptom of diabetes or vice versa.
  • Depression is a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment.
  • Diabetes is also a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment.
  • Both disorders are common in the U.S., affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year.

 

It is common for someone to not realize they have multiple issues

Co-occurring disorders are not uncommon. It is common for someone to experience multiple problems at the same time.

People can have one or more issues that affect their mental health and/or substance use. 

For example, a person with depression may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to feel better and improve their mood. 

After some time of using these substances, this individual may start experiencing life issues such as job loss, legal problems, or family problems because they are struggling with substance use.

When people have co-occurring disorders it means they have two mental health conditions that occur together in the same person at different times in his or her life. 

The most common co-occurring disorders include anxiety disorder (panic attacks), bipolar disorder (rapid mood swings), eating disorders (binging/purging), and personality disorders (intense fear of rejection).

 

The good news is that many people who suffer from co-occurring conditions can get better when treated for both disorders simultaneously by a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in treating addictions along with psychiatric illnesses such as depression or anxiety.

 

The relationship between co-occurring disorders can be complicated

If you or someone you love is struggling with co-occurring disorders, it’s important to be aware of how the two issues can affect one another. 

You may feel like your symptoms are being made worse by substance abuse and vice versa, so it’s helpful to understand how each condition affects the other.

The relationship between mental illness and substance use disorder can be complicated because these conditions often occur together. 

For example, an individual with depression could start drinking alcohol as a way of self-medicating (or “self-medicating”), which would then make their depressive symptoms worse 

— leading them to drink even more frequently than before. 

This is called a “co-occurring” cycle: one problem leads directly into another issue that causes more problems in turn.

 

1. For example, drug and alcohol use can worsen symptoms of a mental illness

Co-occurring disorders are often a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. If a person has co-occurring disorders, their symptoms can get worse because of substance use. 

For example, drug and alcohol use can worsen symptoms of a mental illness like anxiety or depression. 

In addition to making these conditions worse, other mental illnesses can also be triggered by substance abuse. Some examples include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis (hallucinations caused by schizophrenia), and schizophrenia.

 

2. Similarly, stress from a mental illness can worsen the symptoms of a physical condition like asthma

Stress can also worsen symptoms of a condition like asthma. When you’re having an asthma attack, your breathing passages become inflamed and narrow, making it difficult to breathe. 

Stress can cause these airways to narrow even further, making it harder for you to breathe and resulting in more severe symptoms. 

Similarly, stress from a mental illness can worsen the symptoms of a physical condition like asthma. 

If you have both conditions it’s important that you practice good self-care strategies so that you remain in control of your health despite feeling overwhelmed by some events in your life.

 

One issue may lead to another issue

One issue may lead to another issue since many people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol if they do not know how to manage their mental health issues. 

Self-medicating can make it harder to manage physical health issues, as well as mental health issues. 

Self-medicating can be a problem for many addicts and alcoholics because there are so many substances that people can use to get high, but most of these substances have negative side effects that can lead to other problems in the body.

A common example includes:

Alcohol – Alcohol is one of the most commonly used forms of self-medication by people all over the world because it is legal, widely available, and less expensive than other options like prescription drugs and street drugs. 

However, drinking too much alcohol can cause serious damage such as organ failure or even death if consumed regularly over time (i.e., binge drinking).

They need to receive help in both areas

Whether you are struggling with both a mental illness and substance abuse issues, or if you have been diagnosed with both problems, it is important to receive help for both areas.

  • If you have a mental illness and are also abusing drugs or alcohol, then your treatment should address all the issues at the same time. You may be able to get better faster if you receive treatment for all of your symptoms at once rather than one at a time in different places.
  • Your doctor who treats your mental illness may recommend that you see another doctor as well, who specializes in addiction medicine. This person can monitor your progress and make sure that any medications he prescribes don’t interact negatively with other substances being taken by the patient (like recreational drugs). He will also know how best to treat withdrawal symptoms from each individual drug type—for example “detoxing” from methamphetamines won’t be exactly like withdrawing from heroin use! In addition, there are various kinds of therapy available specifically tailored toward people trying out new ways of living their lives soberly after years spent getting high every day!

 

Takeaway: Co-occurring disorders are common, so it's important to learn how to manage them properly

Co-occurring disorders are common, so it’s important to learn how to manage them properly. 

The most common co-occurring disorders are depression and anxiety, followed by schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, then substance use disorders and anxiety.

There isn’t an exact way to determine if someone has a co-occurring disorder or not because each person’s mental health is unique. 

However, some signs may indicate you have been diagnosed with one:

  • You’re having trouble functioning at work or school
  • Your relationships with family members or friends have suffered due to your behavior
  • You feel hopeless about the future.

 

Conclusion

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the information about co-occurring disorders, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and each person will have a unique experience with this condition. 

The key to managing co-occurring disorders is seeking help from a trained professional who can identify triggers and develop an effective treatment plan that works for you.

 

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