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Mental health issues and substance use disorders often overlap. When this occurs, it is known as a comorbid disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) estimates that nearly 9.2 million people in the United States have a comorbid disorder. Further, only 7% of individuals seek treatment for both (SAMHSA).

Let’s look at the relationship between mental health and substance use disorders and find the proper treatment.

Understanding Comorbidity

Comorbidity is having two conditions, such as specific mental health disorders and substance use disorders that co-exist together. If you are managing a substance use disorder, it is likely that you have an underlying mental health issue as well. It is essential to understand that while no condition causes the other, they often exist together. Further, one condition can exacerbate the symptoms of the other. Understanding comorbidity requires recognizing that both disorders are chronic brain disorders.

When you have a substance use disorder, your brain could be re-wired by the substance you use. Long-term substance use will inevitably cause your brain to function differently. Much like diabetes or heart disease, you must manage your substance use for the rest of your life. Changes that occur in the brain areas affected by substance use are the same areas that become influenced by depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. While this connection is complex, some mental health issues increase risk factors for substance use. What this means is, many people affected by a mental health disorder are more prone to turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Why Do Addiction and Mental Health Disorders Occur?

As mentioned prior, experiencing a comorbid disorder does not mean that one disorder has caused the other. However, there are still contributing factors that need consideration.

Such factors, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), include:

  • Substance use can cause you to experience one or more symptoms of another mental illness.
  • Mental disorders often lead to drug or alcohol use because you might use substances to self-medicate.

Some evidence suggests that substance use and mental health disorders become influenced by underlying brain deficits, genetic influences and exposure to trauma. If you have been physically or emotionally traumatized, you are at a higher risk of substance use disorders. Another contributing factor is the age at which symptoms appear. While your brain is still developing during young adulthood, such symptoms could result in significant changes within your brain and, therefore, influence the risk of substance use and mental health disorders.

Why Is It Difficult to Treat Both?

Diagnosis for a comorbid disorder is challenging to diagnose. Symptoms are complex and will vary in severity. Therefore, it is not uncommon to receive treatment for one disorder while the other remains untreated. Doing so can result in low success rates of appropriately managing substance use and mental health disorders. Sometimes this happens because symptoms have similar biological, psychological and social components.

Another reason for not diagnosing comorbid disorders can be due to a lack of training or screening. Not attaining proper screening can result in more health issues and make it increasingly difficult to manage your health needs. Not properly treating your symptoms could result in aggressive behavior, destructive behavior and facing legal ramifications.

Treatment Options

For the best outcome, you could benefit from integrated treatment. With integrated treatment, healthcare professionals can address and treat each disorder at the same time. In turn, this approach helps lower treatment cost and creates better outcomes for success. Early diagnosis and treatment will improve your quality of life and the strength of your recovery.

While it is hard to determine whether you have a comorbid disorder, there are some indicators that you can look for that could point to a comorbid disorder. Often individuals who experience a comorbid disorder have a more persistent, severe and resistant response to treatment than individuals who manage either disorder independently. For this reason, addressing substance use and mental health disorders can become much more difficult.

Does One Come With the Other?

The connection between mental health and substance use disorders is evident; however, diagnosing it is complex. Therefore, concluding that they always go hand in hand is also complex. The process requires proper screening and monitoring of your thoughts and behaviors. The best approach is to continue to educate yourself on comorbidity and seek counsel from qualified professionals. Taking action and seeking a health care professional when you experience symptoms will result in the best care regardless of whether you are diagnosed with a comorbid disorder.

Comorbid conditions require simultaneous treatment. If you are currently struggling to manage a substance use disorder or mental health disorder and have not found appropriate care, Associated Behavioral Health Care can help. With four locations in the Seattle, Bellvue area, we have the resources and options to meet your needs. Find out more and reach out by calling (844) 335-7384