Mental Health

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders: Substance Use and Mental Health in the Family

Co-Occurring Disorders

If you or a family member suffer from substance use disorder (SUD), there is a good chance that a co-occurring disorder is also present. As many as 9.2 million Americans experience substance use in conjunction with one or more other mental health challenges. Since dependence and mental illness so often go hand-in-hand, addressing one without addressing the other can interfere with or even sabotage recovery efforts.

This article explores how co-occurring disorders impact recovery, the impact that living with a person with comorbidities can have on the entire family’s mental health, and where and how to get help, starting with proper diagnosis and treatment.

What is a Co-occurring Disorder?

When a person engages in substance use alongside other psychological disorders, they have comorbidities referred to as co-occurring disorders. Among the most common mental health disorder diagnoses people with SUD receive are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorders

Understanding the Relationship between Substance Use and Mental Health

According to experts at the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center, the relationship between substance use and mental health disorders is strong. In fact, research shows that 50% of people diagnosed with a mental illness engage in substance use. Some of the reasons posited for this phenomenon are:

  • People experiencing disturbing symptoms of mental illness — including anxiety, sleeplessness, intrusive and unwanted thoughts, and uncontrolled impulses — use alcohol or drugs as a means of self-medicating to control these symptoms.
  • For certain vulnerable individuals, the use of certain drugs — such as alcohol, cocaine, or amphetamines — may actually precipitate the onset of mental illness.
  • The presence of environmental factors — such as social isolation or poverty — combined with a genetic predisposition to mental disorders often results in the development of a combination of mental illness and SUD.

Challenges in Diagnosis and Treatment of SUD and Comorbidities

Because treatment outcomes are much more successful when addiction and any comorbidities are addressed simultaneously, it’s important that professionals address both issues.

Best practices include the adoption of protocols — often referred to as Integrated Dual Disorders Treatment (IDDT) — so that both SUD and comorbidities are assessed every time a patient presents with symptoms of either. So a person seeking treatment for substance use disorder should be automatically screened for co-occurring mental disorders, and anyone presenting with symptoms of mental illness should simultaneously be screened for substance use.

Addiction and Family Dysfunction: How Co-occurring Psychological Disorders Impact Families and Mental Health

The patient is not the only one who suffers from dual diagnoses. Addiction is called a family disease for good reason. In fact, addiction and family dysfunction go hand in hand. Family members tend to experience significantly high levels of mental, emotional, social, financial, and physical stress. This negative impact of addiction in families can increase exponentially when there is both substance use and mental illness in the family.

For instance, children who grow up with an untreated dual-diagnosed parent are at increased risk of developing SUD with another psychological disorder, especially if they have a genetic predisposition to either substance use or mental illness. Even children with no genetic propensity are at higher risk of physical, emotional, and cognitive developmental delays and disorders from living in an environment fraught with dysfunction that goes hand-in-hand with family member substance use.

Family and Mental Health Support and Resources

Families impacted by co-occurring addiction and mental health issues are not alone. There are government and private resources they can tap into for help. For instance, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — offers access to resources for addicts and their families, including a National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) and  support groups geared toward families.

In addition, families can reach out to private healthcare professionals specifically focused on working with those who present with co-occurring disorders in both outpatient and residential settings.

How Synergy Health Systems Can Help

Whether you are struggling with addiction and family issues or you have received a diagnosis of both SUD and a mental disorder,  the experienced and compassionate mental health professionals at Synergy Health Systems can help.

We are more than a drug and alcohol rehab center. We treat both addiction and a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions, ensuring that our patients receive the tailored, personalized care that they need.

To learn more about Synergy Health Programs and how our mental and behavioral health care services can help you or a family member, contact us today by calling (855) 859-8808.

July 26th, 2023