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5 Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders

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The relationship between mental health and substance use disorders is very tightly woven. While concrete statistics are difficult to pin down, the percentage of people suffering from a substance use disorder that are concurrently experiencing a mental health condition is estimated to be close to 50% according to SAMHSA’s 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). These numbers are even higher in adolescents who often have higher comorbidity rates. Encore Outpatient Services understands that offering dual diagnosis treatment is critical to providing services for those seeking addiction treatment in Fairfax County or the surrounding areas. Today we will learn about co-occurring disorders and the 5 most common co-occurring disorders seen in the addiction recovery community.

What is a Co-Occurring Disorder?

Co-occurring disorders are also sometimes interchangeably used with the term comorbid disorders—though they are not exactly the same. A co-occurring disorder is a mental illness that occurs alongside a substance use disorder. Comorbidity can involve physical ailments and other conditions that can also contribute to the severity of a substance use disorder, but are not mentally rooted in nature.

Co-occurring disorders are known to provide a negative synergy to conditions such as alcoholism or other substance use disorders. For example, binge drinking alcohol greatly contributes to anxiety, depression, and other challenging mental or emotional states. These states then provide the impetus for the person to use alcohol or drugs to temporarily mitigate the feelings. Understanding and treating co-occurring disorders is the very foundation of MAT—Medication Assisted Treatment.

Based on our experience with providing addiction treatment in Fairfax County and surrounding areas, here are 5 common co-occurring disorders that people suffering from substance use disorders may experience.

1 – Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

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Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder and one of the most common co-occurring disorders. Anxiety is a misunderstood emotion in modern discourse. So much of mental health awareness centers around anxiety, but there are some key distinctions to be made. Experiencing anxiety itself is natural in situations that warrant it. It is when a person experiences persistent anxiety that is unrelenting and disproportionate to the situations at hand that a diagnosis of GAD may be warranted.

Ultimately, when it comes to mental health conditions, one of the first things a professional will consider is how much this condition is impacting a person’s life. If it is impairing function and quality of life, then it merits treatment by a licensed medical professional.

Being one of the most common mental health disorders, GAD is often found to be the condition most associated with self-medicating behavior that drives substance use disorders (SUDs).

2 – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder—ADHD, is often diagnosed at an early age such as a person’s childhood or teenage years. However, there are many individuals who have ADHD and are unaware of it until their manifested behaviors lead them into addiction and they are formally diagnosed.

Those who have ADHD are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. The IASP (International ADHD in Substance Use Disorders) cross-sectional study found that of 3558 subjects from ten different countries, 40% of them screened positive for ADHD.

3 – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Once thought by the public only to be the domain of military veterans and those who had seen combat, the understanding of PTSD has grown greatly over the past two decades to include anyone who has experienced a highly traumatic and impacting event.

Violence, physical or emotional abuse, and sexual assault are a few of the many reasons why a person may develop PTSD. A recurring behavior that occurs with those who are suffering from PTSD is the need to suppress the memories and flashbacks they may have by using drugs and alcohol.

Individuals with PTSD are at minimum 2-4 times more likely to meet the criteria for a SUD than those who do not have PTSD.

4 – Clinical Depression

woman upset - depression co-occurring disorder concept

This list would not be complete without discussing depression. The percentage of people with depression is estimated to be globally at around 5%–according to the World Health Organization.

While depression is anecdotally and publicly considered to be highly correlated with substance use disorders—and this is largely true, it’s important to establish that no consistent pattern of comorbidity exists with depression in regards to SUDs. This does not mean that clinical depression is not considered a co-occurring disorder with addiction, but rather that depression is a highly complex disease that can have a diverse number of causes.

What is known is that drug and alcohol use are powerfully correlated with increased feelings of depression and heightened episodes. This notion is backed by this study which explores the role of alcohol in developing and worsening depression as well as another which examines the role of detox in reducing rates of depression in the sample group.

5 – Bipolar Disorder

Lastly, we come to Bipolar Disorder which is characterized by severe mood swings. These swings range from a high or euphoric state called mania to the lows which are depressive in nature. As we’ve established, depressive episodes are strongly linked to alcohol consumption which in turn can worsen depressive feelings.

However, mania is also dangerous in terms of SUDs. People who are experiencing a manic episode are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors. When combining those circumstances with alcohol consumption which further reduces inhibitions, a person with bipolar disorder can find themselves in life threatening situations.

For those suffering from Bipolar Disorder, having access to a treatment program run by licensed professionals who truly understand the difficulties that come with this complex disorder is key in managing and treating it.

Addiction Treatment in Fairfax County

Encore Outpatient Services serves those seeking addiction treatment in Fairfax County and beyond.

Both uncommon and common co-occurring disorders are important to understand when evaluating and treating substance use disorders of any kind or severity. Contact Encore Outpatient Services today to learn more about our programs and our admissions process.

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