It’s not at all unusual for people with addictions to struggle with other mental health concerns. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one-third of all people who struggle with mental illness also struggle with addiction.1 Since these co-occurring disorders are so common, it’s not surprising that mental health professionals have pulled together detailed plans that can help. Many facilities offer “co-occurring disorders programs” that provide simultaneous treatment for both addiction and mental illness. These types of programs offer the right kind of help for anyone coping with mental illness and addiction.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Medical professionals use the term “co-occurring disorders” to describe a combination of addiction and a mental illness. It can be a little confusing, as addiction is often defined as a type of mental illness, but the term typically relates to a combination of a substance use disorder with one or more of the following:

Researchers aren’t quite sure what causes co-occurring disorders, but new studies shed some light on who might develop these issues. For example, a study of 55 people who abused cocaine in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry suggests that women don’t have co-occurring disorder risk rates at the same rate as men.2 It’s possible that hormonal or other sex-related differences are responsible for that change in risk. But more studies are required in order to really nail down why some people have these issues and others do not. In the interim, it’s safe to say that almost anyone could have a co-occurring disorder.

A Comprehensive Look

Distraught female patient with counselorA program that’s truly made for people with co-occurring disorders will address both disorders at the same time. Those who struggle with untreated mental illness often turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the symptoms of the disorder. This greatly increases the risk of addiction as well as relapse for those who are in recovery.3 Similarly, dealing with a mental health issue without addressing a substance use issue can be difficult. Some substances produce symptoms that are similar to those seen in people with mental illnesses, so without sobriety, people might be diagnosed with mental illnesses they don’t have. The right kind of help provides care for both problems simultaneously.

Standard treatment programs typically begin with medically-supervised detox. But in dual diagnosis programs, therapists often spend time discussing addiction and boosting the person’s motivation to change before detox begins. Dual diagnosis treatment may take longer, but this sensitive approach allows those seeking treatment to understand their issues clearly so they can respond appropriately.

Medication Management

Medications, when used appropriately, can soothe the physical distress caused by drug withdrawal during detox and help those in treatment feel strong enough to continue the hard work of recovery. Those with co-occurring disorders benefit from medications during detox and also need other medications to control the symptoms of mental illness.

These medications alone can’t cure a mental health disorder, but they can help to amend the chemical imbalances that drive altered behavior. For example, people with psychotic disorders may struggle to handle everyday conversations due to the chemical imbalances that prompt them to hear voices and see things. As much as they might want to get better, their chemical distortions block that path to wellness. Medications can be quite useful for them. Similarly, some people with anxiety disorders grow so fretful at the thought of sobriety that they simply can’t accomplish the task. Medications that work to soothe concerns and calm nerves make participating in therapy with less fear possible.

Additional Treatment Options

In addition to using medications rehab professionals employ psychotherapy and holistic options for those in recovery. Both inpatient and outpatient programs are available that include individual psychotherapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Along with psychotherapies, nutrition classes, exercise classes, yoga, meditation, spiritual counseling, life skills, and career counseling help treat the entire person- body, mind, and spirit. A comprehensive program of treatment balanced with the right medications can bring hope and healing to those struggling with co-occurring disorders.4

Help at Black Bear Lodge

At Black Bear Lodge, we know finding a co-occurring disorder treatment program that can help might seem difficult, but we are here for you. Our Georgia facility accepts patients from all around the world. When your loved one arrives, he or she will be treated to therapies that help and heal. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options. Call 706-914-2327 now to get the conversation started.


1 “Dual Diagnosis.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2017.

2 Pedraz, María, Pedro Araos, Nuria García-Marchena, Antonia Serrano, etal. “Sex Differences in Psychiatric Comorbidity and Plasma Biomarkers for Cocaine Addiction in Abstinent Cocaine-Addicted Subjects in Outpatient Settings.” Frontiers. Frontiers, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 12 Aug. 2017.

3 Foster, Linda. “Understanding Addiction Relapse.” N.p., 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

4 Lynne Walsh. “Co-occurring Disorders.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 08 Mar. 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.