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Substance Use Disorder Treatment for People With Co-occurring Disorders

Substance Use Disorder Treatment for People With Co-occurring Disorders

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Did you know that one in every ten Americans will struggle with drugs and alcohol at some point during their lives? Not only is this a prevalent problem, but 75% of affected individuals also report never getting treatment for mental health issues or substance use.

If you’re passionate about ensuring that these people receive treatment, you may want to look into becoming an alcohol and drug counselor. 

Here, we will look at substance use disorder treatment with co-occurring disorders. We’re also going to give you insight into how you can help treat those struggling with addiction. Read on to learn more about this prevalent problem and assistance benefits.

What Is a Co-Occurring Disorder With Substance Use Disorders?

As you likely know, those with substance use disorders are struggling with drugs and/or alcohol addiction. Experts diagnose this disorder when excessive use leads to serious mental and physical health issues that impact the patient’s day-to-day life. Some reasons that a professional may diagnose someone with substance use disorder include:

  • Ruined relationships with partners, friends, and family
  • Strained home lives as a result of the substance use
  • Inability to perform well at work or hold a job
  • Issues with functioning at school as a result of the substance use
  • Exacerbation of other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety

These other mental health issues are what qualify as co-occurring disorders.

Many people who struggle with substance use do so due to underlying mental health issues. For example, someone struggling with depression may turn to alcohol or drugs as a temporary fix.

However, other patients who did not previously have depression may develop it due to alcohol use. In many cases, it is difficult to tell whether the mental health issues caused the substance issues or whether it was the other way around.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Many different co-occurring disorders that a person with substance use disorder may experience. While many of them are mental health issues, others are neurological disorders that impact the patient’s daily lives. Some of the most common include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder or OCD)
  • Paranoia and schizophrenia

Unfortunately, even experienced experts sometimes struggle to diagnose co-occurring disorders. Symptoms of alcohol and drug use occasionally mask those of the mental health disorder that it occurs in tandem with. The opposite also may happen in some situations- some people with mental health problems do not discuss their substance use habits with their health professionals.

The Reasons Behind These Combinations

Research has found that those who experience mental illness are more likely to develop substance use issues. For example, some studies show that those with anxiety disorders are twice as likely to use drugs and alcohol as their mentally healthy counterparts. Other experts note that those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and untreated anxiety are the most at risk.

There are a few possible reasons for this. The first is self-medication. This is usually a scenario where substance issues stem from underlying mental illness.

Those with mental health problems may feel miserable and turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. The substance use and the mental health problems exacerbate each other and form a vicious cycle of pain and substance use.

Other people may develop mental illness as a result of substance use. They may also exacerbate symptoms from pre-existing mental health issues. This is due to changes in the person’s brain chemistry due to substance use.

According to neuroscience experts, drugs and alcohol can disrupt the regular patterns of a person’s brain. The regions of the brain affected by use can alter brain areas that govern impulse control, behavior, mood, and anxiety.

What Does Substance Use Disorder Treatment Look Like for These Individuals?

Before beginning treatment, a health professional may look for symptoms of substance use disorder in conjunction with co-occurring disorders. In addition to knowing the degree of a patient’s substance use, experts will also look for signs of mental illness. Some of these signs include:

  • Extreme emotional highs and lows
  • Higher levels of irritability
  • More emotional distance from loved ones
  • An increase in risky habits
  • Sleeping and eating patterns shifting
  • Negligence of personal hygiene
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, and/or delusions

The treatment will depend on the severity of both the substance problem and the co-occurring mental health issues.

Treating both substance use issues and mental health disorders simultaneously is essential. It reduces the risk of patients having high levels of depression, mood swings, or anxiety during the treatment process. This ultimately also decreases the chance of a relapse.

Treatment Components

One of the most common aspects of treatment plans is talk therapy. These recovery plans allow patients to sit down with a professional and talk about the underlying issues causing mental illness and addiction. Professionals can help struggling individuals get to the root of their problems and understand what exact co-occurring issues you’re treating.

Other aspects of treating substance use disorder with co-occurring mental illness include:

  • Providing an equal amount of care and attention to both the substance use and the mental illness
  • Treatment teams with certification and experience in substance use disorders
  • Finding and diagnosing the co-occurring disorders quickly and accurately to begin treatment early
  • Welcoming people with multiple mental health issues into treatment circles
  • Understanding that even seemingly “temporary” problems require long-term assistance
  • Treating all clients with dignity and respect

What Are the Benefits of Becoming an Alcohol and Drug Counselor?

If substance use disorder counseling sounds like something you would be interested in doing,  you might be wondering how you can get started. 

Becoming a substance use counselor allows you to work with and help people at a vulnerable point in their lives. As an alcohol and drug counselor, you can help people get their lives back on track. This means that you can assist people in rebuilding connections with family and friends, finding meaningful employment, and reconnecting with their purpose and passions.

Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies

The Alcohol and Drug Counseling Studies Program is a great way to prepare for entry into this field. Once you have completed the program, and after 3000 hours of fieldwork experience, you will be eligible to sit for the certification examination. 

AAS Degree in Substance Use

Does this sound like an appealing career path? If so, you may want to get an Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) degree in substance use. The objective of this program is to help interested parties become substance use, disorder counselors.

Qualifying candidates can participate in this college-level educational program. Much of your learning will take place online, but your clinical internship training will be at an approved treatment facility. Once you have completed the program, and after 2000 hours of fieldwork experience, you will be eligible to sit for the certification examination. 

BAS Degree in Addiction Studies

Those who already possess an associate’s degree can apply to the InterCoast BAS Degree program in Addiction Studies.  The program provides additional training and five additional specialty certification opportunities for those who complete the degree.  Once you have completed the program, and after 2000 hours of fieldwork experience, you will be eligible to sit for the certification examination. 

Contact InterCoast today about a career in Addiction Studies

While there are a plethora of careers dedicated to helping those struggling with addiction, becoming a knowledgeable and skilled counselor is one of the best. You will have the opportunity to work directly with clients and assist them on the road to recovery. 

We’re committed to educating passionate individuals about substance use disorder treatment, including co-occurring disorders. Contact us with any remaining questions that you have about our program, its timeframes and fees, and how we can assist you in fulfilling your career objectives.

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