If you are familiar with the addiction recovery community, you may have noticed that many people who have struggled with addiction also have mental health conditions. Around 9 million people in the United States are estimated to be part of this group, which is about half of all people with substance use disorder. Having one or more mental illnesses while also experiencing addiction may be referred to as dual diagnosis, comorbid conditions, or co-occurring conditions, and there are several reasons why this phenomenon occurs. 

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we regularly treat people who are diagnosed with a mental health condition as well as substance use disorder, which is why we have built mental health treatment for conditions including anxiety, depression, and PTSD into our substance use treatment program. We recognize that coping with a mental illness can make it harder to get sober and that using substances can make mental health symptoms worse. We want to help our clients break the vicious cycle that can result.

Similar Causes

What causes people to turn to substances is not exactly the same as what causes mental illness, but there is a great deal of overlap. Both addiction and mental health concerns are often found in people who:

  • Have a family history of mental illness and/or addiction
  • Have experienced more trauma than most people
  • Started using substances at an early age

Chicken or the Egg?

Because mental illness and addiction so often co-occur, it can be difficult to tell if someone first struggled with their mental health and then turned to substances to self-medicate or if the person misused substances first, which led them to develop a mental health concern. Regardless, untreated mental illness and active addiction can each make the other condition far more difficult to manage. 

The Most Common Co-Occurring Disorders

Several mental health concerns are more likely to occur alongside addiction. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Treating Co-occurring Conditions

In the past, rehab facilities tended to treat one condition at a time, with the hope that managing either the substance use or the mental health condition would make it easier to treat the other issue later. It is now more popular to treat both conditions together. For this reason, many programs that treat substance use disorder will also offer mental health services, as we do at Safe Harbor Recovery Center, or connect their clients to outside therapists and medication managers for their mental health needs. We know that promoting mental health improves the chances of clients maintaining long-term recovery from substance use disorder.  

How to Cope with Co-Occurring Conditions

If you are struggling with both a mental health condition and substance use disorder, it is recommended that you work on them together, both during and after your addiction treatment. The good news is that generally what is good for mental health is often helpful for addiction, and vice versa. Some of the best things you can do for both types of diagnoses include:

  • Be open with your providers about your mental health and your struggles with addiction. Encourage your mental health providers, substance use treatment team, and physician to collaborate by signing releases for them to work together.
  • Take medications as prescribed, and if you are prescribed something that feels like it might endanger your recovery, ask your doctor about alternative medications.
  • Prioritize self-care, including sleep, nutrition, exercise, and spirituality. 
  • Build a strong support system that encourages your recovery in both mental health and sobriety.
  • Develop healthy coping skills. While it is a great decision to stop misusing alcohol and other substances, many people have become dependent on substance use as a coping skill. To sustain recovery, other coping skills must be learned. Therapy is a great way to develop coping skills such as:
    • Setting healthy boundaries
    • Time management
    • Problem-solving
    • Emotional regulation
    • Stress management

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we believe in treating the whole person. Your mental and physical health are key factors in your ability to adhere to long-term sobriety, and we want your life to be as rich and meaningful as possible, in all areas.