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What is a Co-occurring Disorder?

Embark Behavioral Health
January 21, 2020

You know you suffer from depression, you know that you also use substances. But did you know that there is a name for this? When you have a mood disorder or other mental health issue and you have a Substance Use Disorder, or SUD, then you have what is called a co-occurring disorder.

More Than Moods

Living with depression, anxiety, or another mood disorder is difficult enough. They can transform you from a healthy, relatively happy person to someone whose moods, diet, sleep, and activities are impacted. While both depression and anxiety can come from environmental causes, or things that happen in our lives, more often than not, there is a physiological cause, too. Chemicals like serotonin in our brains become imbalanced, and the neurotransmitters misfire. Before you know it, you are depressed or suffering from anxiety, sometimes to the point of not being able to function at all.

Depression in particular is dangerous, because the endgame for depression is suicidal thoughts, attempts, or suicide. No one can ever predict how long it takes for you to get to that point, it can happen very quickly, or take a long time to reach that point. But it is never worth the risk. Depression is very important to recognize and be treated. It’s not about being sad or blue, it is a physical and very tangible mental health issue.

Anxiety is also more than just being fearful or anxious. The brain’s alert system goes into hyperactivity, sending distress signals throughout your body, often for innocent things. These distress signals can be nausea, vomiting, tension, pain in your arms or legs, severe sweating, obsessive or repetitive movements that you are not even conscious of, and more. Anxiety interferes with your daily functioning, and the symptoms can cause other serious health problems, too, like weight loss, headaches, and more. This mood disorder is often dismissed, but if it is happening in your body, you know it’s real.

If It’s Not One Thing, It’s the Other

Then comes the SUD. Substance use can precede depression or anxiety, or it can occur when you try to self-medicate for your mood disorder. You can probably see where this is heading. If you already have problems functioning in your daily life, then drinking or using drugs, whether marijuana, prescription medications or other illicit drugs, is not going to help your cause. You think it will, because you want to numb the pain, to escape your distorted reality. But it never helps.

Then you become addicted to the substance or substances that you are using, and your mind becomes a circus. Except there is nothing entertaining about it. Prolonged depression, serious anxiety, and especially substance use can leave lasting marks on your brain and actually impair your brain function. It is serious, but it is not hopeless.

Complicated Treatment

Previously, treatment would consist of either one or the other of mood or SUD. This was found to be dangerous, because both your mood disorder and substance use are related. In fact, when environmental factors such as abuse or other trauma are involved, they are often at the root of each problem. Co-occurring disorders were also formerly called dual diagnoses, but the name co-occurring is more representative of what is happening in your brain.

Treatment of co-occurring disorders can be complicated, because people suffering from an SUD may resist taking medication for depression or anxiety, even though those medications are not addictive and do not produce highs or other benefits. They simply balance the chemicals in your brain so it can function properly. Likewise, if you only treat for depression or anxiety, the addiction is still there. When you keep using substances, they can, in turn, cause depression or anxiety or both. Treatment’s relationship status with co-occurring disorders is complicated.

Tricky, But Not Impossible

Treating co-occurring disorders is tricky, but it’s not impossible. When you seek medical treatment from a doctor, such as a psychiatrist, and also seek therapeutic treatment for your SUD, you can actually come out a better, stronger person. Most of all, you can restore your mental health.

In treatment, there are many different types of therapy, but one stands out for successful treatment of both mood disorders and SUDs: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. This type of therapy is very successful in treating co-occurring disorders because you are actively involved in the therapy process. You learn skills that change the way you look at the world, you learn coping and management skills, and those skills allow you to take control back of your life and to keep it, too. The therapy is meant to be a long-term solution to the psychological aspect of your co-occurring disorder, and support you in continuing the medical aspect of your mental health. You also learn to advocate for yourself and ask for help when you need it.

A co-occurring disorder is when you have one or more mood disorders and a co-occurring SUD. This difficult combination can be difficult to treat, but it is not impossible. You can take charge of your life, take control of your co-occurring disorder and beat the odds. You can seek treatment in an outpatient program and find the help you need before it gets any worse. You may have co-occurring diagnoses, but you can make your life whole. Call today.

You can get help with both mood disorders and substance use by calling Embark Behavioral Health 1-855-809-0409 today. Two diagnoses means double the success when you seek treatment.

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of clinics and programs offering premier mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults. Dedicated to its mission of reversing the trends of adolescent and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark is unlike any other behavioral health organization in the United States. Embark offers a full continuum and spectrum of services, a unique 25-years of specialization, a deep legacy of serving youth, and a set of internationally validated outcomes that drive treatment in real-time. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including wilderness therapy, long-term residential treatment centers, short-term residential treatment centers, day treatment, partial hospitalization (PHP) programs, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), outpatient, and virtual counseling.