Many men and women around the world experience addiction. However, at some point, some of them discover that in fact, they struggle with more than addiction; they also struggle with a mental illness. This experience is often referred to as having co-occurring disorders, meaning that you’re struggling with two disorders at the same time.

Co-occurring disorders are those that include both an addiction and a mental illness. For instance, you might suffer from depression as well as an alcohol addiction. Or you might have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and have developed an addiction to benzodiazepine tranquilizers, which are commonly prescribed for anxiety.

Co-occurring disorders are very common.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are 9.2 million adults who have both a mental health concern along with an addiction. You can imagine that an individual experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety or the mood swings of Bipolar Disorder might want to quell those uncomfortable feelings with drugs or alcohol. This is one common reason that leads to having co-occurring disorders.

Yet, experts are unsure which tends to come first. At times, it’s the addiction that began first. As the cycle of addiction intensifies, it’s possible to develop a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. In other cases, it’s the mental illness that was present first, and then an addiction began, often as a result of needing a means to cope. For instance, when you’re not feeling well emotionally one morning, you might crave caffeine and nicotine because you know it will change your mood and give you energy to face the day. Or you might crave marijuana to help relax the over thinking that goes on in your mind. In addition to depression or anxiety, other mental illnesses that co-exist with substance use are Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These mental illnesses are those that can cause a need for coping with life and produce cravings for alcohol or drug use.

Regardless of which developed first, both needed to be treated simultaneously.  Treatment must thoroughly address the addiction, the mental illness, as well as any underlying issues that might also be contributing to substance use. It’s important that if you’re residing in an addiction treatment center that doesn’t provide therapeutic services to find that on your own. You might look for a therapist, psychologist, or even a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication. You might provide yourself with the kind of support that can tend to your addiction – a treatment center, sober living home, 12-step meetings, a sponsor, and/or a drug counselor. At the same time, be sure to get support that can tend to the mental illness – a therapist, psychiatrist, support group, and/or medication.

Having the right support can provide healing from both disorders.

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