If we want something bad enough, we’ll find a way to achieve it. But I believe in taking advantage of the resources available to us, especially when that means increasing our chances of accomplishing our goals. And that’s exactly what co-occurring illnesses treatment programs do.
Co-occurring illnesses, also referred to as dual diagnoses, are when someone has both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem (like me). Can someone with a co-occurring illness accomplish both mental stability and sobriety by pursuing only traditional treatments? Sure. But it will likely be harder and take longer, ultimately decreasing chances of a successful long-term recovery.
People with mental illnesses are more likely to have substance abuse problems, and people who have substance abuse problems are more likely to have a mental illness. Either can develop first. For example, someone with a mental illness may develop a substance abuse problem as a result of self-medicating. And someone may develop psychiatric symptoms as a result of abusing substances. It’s important to note that alcohol and drugs exacerbate mental illness symptoms.
It’s estimated that around 8 million U.S. adults have co-occurring disorders. About 1/3 of all people living with mental illness and about 1/2 living with severe mental illness also have substance abuse problems. Similarly, about 1/3 of people who abuse alcohol and about 1/2 of people who abuse drugs also have a mental illness.
Co-occurring illnesses can be difficult to diagnose due to their complexities. Symptoms overlap and many factors contribute to them (biological, psychological, social). When someone seeks and receives treatment for a mental illness, it’s common for others to go unaddressed. This not only makes an already difficult recovery even more so, it increases risks of hospitalizations, suicide, homelessness, incarceration, and other illnesses.
An integrated approach is most effective in treating co-occurring illnesses, as it lowers these risks and increases the chances of long-term mental health recovery and abstinence. This means simultaneously treating both illnesses and giving each the same level of care. While also recognizing that each are long-term, chronic illnesses with high risks of relapse. This requires a treatment team trained in addressing co-occurring illnesses.
The integrated approach eliminates treatment barriers and makes for a more seamless rehabilitation process. For example, prescribing psychotropic medication becomes safer when the prescribing doctor is involved in the client’s detox and recovery process.
Patients should be assessed for co-occurring illnesses early on in the diagnosing process. It should be routine for doctors to assess substance abuse patients for signs of mental illness and vice versa.
The most effective treatment for co-occurring illnesses…
…Is intensive inpatient integrative care where both illnesses are treated at the same time and receive the same level of care. Followed by long-term aftercare and support. Inpatient care may include a medical detox, group and individual therapy, and medication management.
Thankfully, co-occurring illnesses treatment options are becoming more prevalent. Though many are pricey, they often take insurance and are willing to work with you along the lines of a sliding payment scale. I almost made the mistake of writing off a facility because it looked too expensive. But I took a chance. And somehow the stars aligned. With the help of my family, my insurance and a sliding payment scale, I was able to attend 41 days at an inpatient co-occurring illnesses rehab facility. And that was the start of my new life.
Obviously, inpatient programs simply are not feasible for everyone. And that’s okay. There are outpatient programs, individual and group therapy, peer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other alternative options.
Everyone’s road to recovery is unique. What matters most is your willingness to make it to where you need to go. Never give up hope. You’re not alone. So ask for help in developing a plan of action. Recovery is possible and it’s waiting for you.