Co-occurring disorder refers to instances when someone meets criteria for both a mental health diagnosis and a substance abuse diagnosis. This is sometimes called a dual diagnosis. It is estimated that between 20 and 50 percent of mental health patients also have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
Those coping with co-occurring disorders may find that the symptoms of one disorder mimic the other (depressed mood may look like opioid use), and that treatment for one condition can impact the other (anti-depressant medication can worsen stimulant abuse). Individuals also self- medicate with prescriptions or alcohol to cope with mental health conditions, something that makes accurate diagnosis difficult.
In the past, there was debate about whether one could be treated for addictions while taking mood altering substances to treat a mental illness. It is commonly accepted now that treatment of COD is best provided simultaneously, so long as treatment is closely coordinated among providers.
When seeking assistance for either substance abuse or mental illness, it is extremely important for you to be open and honest with your providers about your concerns and observations. Share openly about any concerns regarding your mental health, as well as your use of medications or alcohol. It’s only with accurate information that a helpful diagnosis can be made which will lead to the best possible treatment for you.
Likewise, it is important that you take your medication as prescribed and not alter that regimen without consult with your provider. With open communication between yourself and your provider, your medications can be adjusted to realize the maximum benefit for yourself.
If you are prescribed medication, also be open with your prescriber about the counseling that you are involved with. Medication is half of the solution, the other half is counseling support. There are many reactions we have to being diagnosed with any illness, whether it is cancer, diabetes, mental illness or addictions. A counselor is trained to help you manage those reactions, as well as assist you identify new strategies for coping. All of us develop ways of talking with family and friends; we develop assumptions and expectations that normally serve us just fine in our relationships. However, these learned lessons can also sometimes be unhelpful to us as we grow. This is more often the case when a mental illness or addiction is in the picture. A trained counselor or therapist will help identify how you can improve relationships through new communication styles and new, more appropriate assumptions.
Finally, it’s vitally important that you take responsibility for your illness and manage it, along with your providers, to improve your health. It’s frustrating and it’s not fair, but it’s the facts so you have no choice but to be proactive and manage your conditions responsibly. There will be setbacks, and there will be extremely good days. Over time the good and low will even out and you should experience stability. Lean on your informal support system and your professional providers and, like many others, you will find stability and calm.