Addiction and Mental Health Disorders: Which Should You Treat First?

addiction and mental health disorders

Co-occurring disorders do not discriminate. They can affect anyone, regardless of upbringing, education, age, race, financial situation or gender identity. When you simultaneously have addiction and a mental health disorder, it is also called a dual diagnosis.

Though combined addiction and mental health disorders may seem like a chicken-and-egg situation, the truth is that people can develop either substance abuse or mental illness first. Those who struggle with mental health issues such as PTSD, depression and anxiety may initially begin drinking or using drugs in a misguided effort to self-medicate and ease their negative feelings. However, alcohol and other drugs can exacerbate the symptoms of mental illnesses. Likewise, people with substance misuse problems may develop issues like depression and other mood disorders when their addiction causes them to become isolated from family and friends.

How Prevalent Are Co-Occurring Addiction and Mental Health Disorders?

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 8.2 million adults aged 18 or older – or 3.4 percent of all adults – had both a mental health problem and a substance abuse disorder within the past year, and 2.6 million adults – or 1.1 percent of all adults – had co-occurring serious mental illness and a substance abuse disorder in the past year. The report goes on to note, however, that about half the former group did not seek either mental health care or specialty substance use treatment, and only a third of adults in the latter group received either type of care.

How to Treat Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

People who simultaneously experience a substance misuse problem and a psychiatric disorder may discover the symptoms of their co-occurring disorders differ in severity, and that the severity of these illnesses can ebb and flow over time. Compared to individuals who are only living with one of these disorders, those with addiction and mental health challenges may experience higher hurdles in recovery, and may also require longer periods of treatment. However, that doesn’t mean recovery is out of reach.

The idea that a qualified therapist cannot successfully treat a depressed person who is simultaneously addicted to drugs or alcohol is an outdated notion. We now know the most effective treatment for co-occurring disorders is an approach called integrated intervention, when the person struggling with both substance misuse and a diagnosed mental illness can receive help for both disorders at the same time.

With this in mind, you should look for a treatment center that offers a comprehensive plan to address a dual diagnosis at its root. Though recovery programs are highly customizable, here are some common elements they may share:

Break Free of the Chains of a Dual Diagnosis

Regardless of whether the addiction or the mental health issues emerged first, treatment can make all the difference in helping people with co-occurring disorders reclaim their health and quality of life. In New Found Life’s dual diagnosis program, you will learn more about the causes of both conditions, and you’ll get the tools and support that allows you to make lasting changes. Take the first step and reach out to our admissions counselors 24/7.