by Jessica Candelaria Lipsey

Over 10 million people have a mental health disorder and substance use disorder combined (2005).  Recognizing the link between addiction and co-occurring disorders is important for many reasons, but when we acknowledge this link as a professional – whether it be a counselor, nurse, doctor, attorney etc. – it allows us to develop a cohesive system of care for this person.

It is not uncommon to have a mental health disorder in conjunction with addiction.  Symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, and more are seen often with substance abuse.  However, when we are talking about co-occurring disorders, we are not just referring to mental health symptoms – we are also finding solutions for people who might be homeless, HIV positive, or have a history of criminal charges.

When we think of the term co-occurring disorders we can think about treating the whole person and connecting them with multiple resources in the community.  This all enables the person to further achieve sobriety.

Why can’t we just help the person get sober?  Doesn’t that solve the issue in itself?  That is the FIRST major step.   Treatment programs that solely focus on the addiction aspect are missing a vital contributor to the person’s addiction.  For instance, let’s say a person struggles with depression from a very young age.  Then, as an older adult they discover alcohol; it fills the void but gets out of control and eventually becomes a problem over time.

Once a person stops drinking, the deep, empty feelings of depression return and intensify without something to numb it.  They are not sure how to cope with these uncomfortable feelings and they even want to drink again.  This is where treating that mental health symptom is crucial.  Without the resources and new tools to deal with these self-destructive thoughts, the person may be at risk of relapse.

Addiction researchers refer to the need for “integrated” treatment for individuals with COD.  This model of treatment finds it efficient for professionals from different disciplines to work in conjunction together.  For instance, a psychiatrist, nurse, mental health counselor, and social worker all work in collaboration to best treat a client’s COD.  Research has found that using this approach leads to a lower relapse rate in treatment centers when services were provided onsite.

Counselors can use the integrative COD model in multiple different settings.  In the private sector and with the client’s signed consent, the clinician can collaborate with health care professionals working on behalf of the client, in order to make sure mental health symptoms are being addressed efficiently.  In residential settings, health care professionals with different areas of expertise staff each case to ensure quality care.

According to The Office of National Drug Control Policy, “the fastest and most cost-effective way to reduce the demand of illicit drugs is to treat chronic drug use… these individuals need COD services.”  Numerous studies show us over and over again that treating the whole person reduces the likelihood of relapse, increases a person’s chance of obtaining long term recovery, and ultimately saves lives.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse and/or mental health struggles, call Life Counseling Solutions today at 407-622-1770. Make an appointment or set up a free 15-minute consult with our expert counselors. You do not need to suffer and struggle alone. 

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.  Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Co-Occurring Disorders.  Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 42.  HHS Publication No. (SMA) 08-3992.  Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2005.