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Co-occurring Disorders Common Among Young Adults in Recovery, Says Study

co-occuring disorderA new study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment has found that co-occurring disorders are a common issue for young adults who are in recovery for substance abuse or addiction. Behavioral disorders were the focus of the study, but a great deal of research has piled up over the years demonstrating that co-occurring disorders of all kinds are more often a problem for people struggling with drug or alcohol dependence as compared to the general population across all age groups. What does this mean? We know that when addiction is an issue for a patient, treatment is necessary. Medical detox and long-term psychotherapeutic treatment and follow-up care are the best ways to overcome the disease of addiction. We also know that when someone suffers from extreme anxiety or panic disorder, or if depression is an intrusive issue for six months or more, then mental health treatment is necessary. Treatment may include medication, but the focus is on learning new coping mechanisms to manage the disease holistically and help the patient find balance in day-to-day life. When someone is diagnosed with both a substance use disorder and a behavioral or mental health disorder, it is of supreme importance that they undergo treatment that addresses both issues thoroughly at the same time. Both are very serious disorders and will significantly impact the patient’s quality of life. Plus, if the disorder is left untreated while the patient pursues services for the co-occurring disorder, it will only slow down progress if not render the attempted treatment completely ineffective. What services does your loved one need to successfully break free from drug and alcohol abuse while learning how to manage their co-occurring disorder?

Behavioral Disorders and Substance Abuse

Gambling, sex, and shopping – there are a lot of different vices that people can turn to in an effort to fill the void they feel in their lives. Drinking and drug use may be a choice they make to escape feelings of low self-esteem or depression. Though substance abuse causes deadly problems of its own, if the underlying issue is not addressed during treatment, many patients will simply attempt to address that issue on their own via another vice or destructive behavioral choice. Alexandre B. Laudet, PhD, is the Director of the Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes in New York and lead author of the recent study on the subject of behavioral disorders among substance abusers in recovery published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Said Dr. Laudet: “Addiction treatment needs to address the whole person. If you quit drinking but start compulsive eating, shopping or sex, you are still not functioning at a healthy level. Clinicians and researchers tend to look at drugs and alcohol separately, but if a person in recovery solves one problem and ignores the others, they do so at their own risk. We need to start asking questions about behavioral addictions, and designing programs that help people deal with different addictions in an integrated way.”

Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, exercise addiction, and others may seem at first to be far removed from drug and alcohol abuse. But for many people who struggle with both substance abuse and an eating disorder, food and drugs are both connected to their sense of self-worth, interpersonal relationships, and their ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Limiting food in order to maintain a desired weight or a certain look is directly connected to mental health and wellness. To lose control of that may seem terrifying to someone with an eating disorder. For the same reason, that person might use drugs and alcohol in order to feel more confident in social situations, to escape feelings of anxiety or depression, or to feel better about themselves. Or they may use drugs in an effort to increase weight loss, maintaining an unhealthily low weight by using stimulant drugs that limit appetite and boost metabolism. Just as with co-occurring behavioral disorders, eating disorders must be addressed medically and psychotherapeutically – often for the long-term, just like substance abuse. Treatment for physical damage to the body caused by calorie limitation, purging, and other efforts to unsafely lose weight can take months, as can helping the person to change behaviors and attitudes toward food. Long-term follow-up care after an initial inpatient stay is usually recommended.

Depression or Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Mental health issues like depression or anxiety in addition to substance abuse are also common. For many patients, drinking and drug use are methods of easing their experience of their symptoms related to these disorders. Unfortunately, this is not an effective solution and often results in:
  • Longer episodes of depression or anxiety
  • More severe symptoms related to the mental health disorder
  • More frequent episodes of symptoms
  • Additional problems caused by drug use and abuse, including medical emergencies like overdose and/or addiction
Stopping drug use and drinking can help to alleviate some of these problems, but if cravings for drugs and alcohol arise – a sign of addiction – it’s clear that both disorders will need to be addressed by a treatment program that also provides care for the underlying mental health issue. Alcohol and drug use when an underlying disorder is present does not always require treatment. However, if the young person is unable to stop drinking or using drugs despite the problems that it causes in his or her ability to manage mental health symptoms, then dual diagnosis treatment is recommended.

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