The fact that so many adolescents struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns is fairly well known. The fact that substance use is so prevalent amongst adolescents is not exactly news, either. However, much lesser known is what happens when someone with depression or anxiety also has a substance abuse problem. This is known as co-occurring disorders, and they are more than double the trouble.
Depression and anxiety are two types of very common mood disorders. These disorders typically occur due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, although they are often brought on by environmental factors such as stressors. They can also occur as a result of trauma, including childhood trauma. The underlying risk of mood disorders is the prevalence of suicide as a result of untreated depression or other mood disorders.
Both depression and anxiety can be treated by medical doctors, improving mood and decreasing anxiety. Often, therapy is also recommended, in the form of talk therapy. There are various different types of therapy that can be used based on the extent of the mood disorder, how long it has occurred, as well as other individual circumstances of each person. Therapy can be done in group or individual sessions.
As for the prevalence of mood disorders, depression will affect approximately 17% of the population at some point in their life, and up to 20% of the population will experience some type of anxiety within their lifetime, so these mood disorders are quite common.
Substance Use Disorders
Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) are when substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs are used repeatedly to the point of causing health problems, disability, or the inability to function properly at school, home, or work. The causes of substance use can include genetic predisposition, but often also include environmental stressors, including trauma.
Up to 20 percent of the population will suffer from an SUD in their lifetime. Whether it be chronic consumption of alcohol, illicit drugs, drugs such as marijuana, or abuse of prescription drugs such as pain medications, SUDs are very debilitating and can be fatal due to overdose, accident, or suicide.
When someone has a mood disorder and an SUD, it is known as a co-occurring disorder. Up to 50 percent of people who have an SUD also have a mood disorder. Sometimes, people who have mood disorders, especially depression, will “self-medicate” with substances. Sometimes, those who are experiencing a SUD will also then experience the onset of a mood disorder.
Both mood disorders and SUDs impact the neurobiology of the brain, so when they are both occurring in the same brain, it can make it very complicated to diagnose and treat. Diagnosis is particularly difficult when there are many overlapping symptoms and causes.
Complications of Treatment
One of the biggest problems of co-occurring disorders is when only one of the disorders is diagnosed or treated. This can result in both disorders worsening or re-occurring, so it is important to treat both together. Another problem is that in the past, only one disorder was treated at a time. The current recommendation is to treat both disorders together.
Some people are unwilling to take medications for mental health treatment, as they are concerned about becoming addicted. However, most medications used to treat depression and anxiety are non-addictive. The medications prescribed for mental health do not produce a high, nor do they create a compulsive need like the substances that create dependency or addiction. Rather, they are formulated to create balance in the brain’s chemistry and restore normal function.
Ultimately, a combination of treatments, combining both medical and therapeutic treatments will be successful in treating co-occurring disorders. Often, people find that by addressing the medical side and also addressing the stressors which caused the mood disorder and/or the SUD, they can find a balance of mental health.
Finding the Right Treatment
One of the best treatments for both SUDs and mood disorders is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. This treatment helps to provide the skills for learning acceptance, how to cope with stress, improved communication skills, and how to regulate emotions better.
One of the reasons that DBT is so effective is that it requires us to be engaged in our own healing. It is not a therapist talking to you, it is the active engagement in our own mental health. DBT seeks to help us look at the cause of our substance use or depression or anxiety, then address the cause, as well as providing us with skills to make necessary changes for our own health. In short, DBT is effective because we are responsible for and capable of monitoring our own mental health and advocating for ourselves when we need help.
If you are experiencing a mood disorder and also using substances, your situation is not hopeless. You can find treatment for your co-occurring disorder that will not only help you to be mentally healthy, it will empower you to become the best version of yourself.
Contact Embark Behavioral Health today. They use DBT and are experienced in treating co-occurring disorders. Their outpatient programs can help you to restore balance to your life and improve your relationships with others. You don’t need to suffer or think all is lost. You can conquer your double-headed dragon called co-occurring disorders and protect your mental health for the rest of your life.
You can get help with both mood disorders and substance use by calling Embark Behavioral Health 1-855-809-0409 today. Turn your double trouble into a singular state of mental health.