What Are Co-Occurring Disorders?
Substance use disorders and mental health disorders are often co-occurring—which means that a person may be struggling with both at the same time. This is understandable, of course. A mental health disorder may lead someone to use dangerous substances in order to moderate or mask the symptoms of the mental health challenges. Or a person who is struggling with a substance use disorder may find their mental health in crisis due to the physical, emotional, and mental stresses associated with using drugs or alcohol.
Take, for example, bipolar disorder. This mental health disorder (which for many years was known as “manic depression”) is associated with extreme ups and downs in a person’s mood. Sometimes they may experience an emotional high during which it may seem as though they will never run out of energy. They may be exceptionally productive and creative during this period—getting things done, solving problems, working through the night on a passion project, and more.
On the flip side, a person with bipolar disorder will sometimes sink into periods of deep depression during which they may find it hard to concentrate on anything or to find the motivation to go to work or school, spend time with friends, or to do any of their usual day-to-day activities. Both the high periods and the low periods can last for an extended period, disrupting life for the person with the disorder—and often for those around them.
As challenging as bipolar disorder can be, the difficulties can be heightened if the person in question turns to drugs or alcohol as a way to manage their symptoms. They might drink to excess to mitigate the effects of a high period, for example. Or they may turn to stimulants to try to overcome the extreme lethargy and lack of motivation they experience during a low period. In either case, this “solution” only adds to the overall problem.
Treatment Options are Not Either/Or. Get Help for Both.
For a person struggling with co-occurring disorders, there may be a temptation to think that addressing one will automatically address the other.
Say you are struggling with both substance use and a mental health issue like bipolar disorder. It might be tempting to think that if you get some help for your mental health disorder—therapy, medication, and the like—your substance use disorder will magically vanish.
Or you might believe that if you get treatment for the substance use disorder you will suddenly no longer be bedeviled by the mental health issues associated with bipolar disorder.
But this is not an either/or situation. Treating one disorder without addressing the other is unlikely to be an effective long-term strategy—especially since the disorders are likely entangled with one another. Your best option is to get treatment for both disorders.
That may play out a number of ways. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a short-term intervention, can help a person learn to better navigate the extreme highs and deep lows of bipolar disorder. The therapy is intended to help you better understand the ways in which thoughts, feelings, and actions are intertwined. Cognitive behavioral therapy is centered on goals and focuses on immediate concerns and issues. Because of the short-term nature of the approach, cognitive behavioral therapy can work well while you go through rehab for a substance use disorder. By addressing both disorders, you will build a much firmer foundation for your recovery and will have more tools for managing your mental health.
A Note About Medication and Co-Occurring Disorders
We should note that one of those tools for managing your mental health may be medication. Often, pharmaceuticals are a foundational part of treating bipolar disorder. Finding the right combination of medications in the right doses can be an ongoing challenge as you and your doctor work together to find the best treatment option for you.
Of course, if you are also being treated for a substance use disorder, some additional complications must be taken into account as your medication regimen is established. This need to strike a careful balance is another reason it is absolutely essential that you get help for co-occurring disorders rather than seeking help for one and ignoring the other.
Peak View Behavioral Health Has the Expertise You Need
We have established how important it is to get help for co-occurring disorders. But you may be wondering how best to do that. Fortunately, Peak View Behavioral Health is ready and able to help you (or a loved one) with mental health disorders, a substance use disorder, or both. Our exceptional staff has both the expertise and compassion necessary to personalize treatment because we recognize that no two people have identical experiences or needs when it comes to challenges with drugs, alcohol, or mental health. Neither a mental health disorder nor a substance use disorder should define your life. We are here to help you address both kinds of disorders effectively.