How To Manage Co-Occurring Disorders

Having a co-occurring disorder means you’re diagnosed with a substance use disorder (e.g., drug and alcohol addiction) and a mental health issue.

A co-occurring disorder is also known as a ‘dual disorder’ or ‘dual diagnosis.’ Dealing with drug addiction or alcoholism is never easy, but it’s even more challenging when facing a mental health problem.

In a co-occurring disorder, substance use disorders and psychiatric conditions have unique symptoms that may interfere with everyday living. It can complicate daily activities such as school, work, etc.

Even worse, co-occurring conditions may affect each other. When you leave drug addiction or alcoholism untreated, your mental health disorder will worsen. The same happens when you leave your psychiatric condition untreated.

But don’t worry; co-occurring disorders are treatable and manageable. In this post, you’ll discover effective strategies for managing your dual diagnosis.

What Comes First: Mental Health Issues Or Substance Abuse?

There’s a close link between mental health and substance abuse. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one directly causes the other.

Abusing drugs, such as marijuana, can cause and prolong mind-altering effects, while alcohol can worsen symptoms of anxiety or depression. Both substances are used to treat the symptoms of mental health conditions. However, people often abuse them to deal with their emotions or change their mood for the time being.

Unfortunately, self-treating with drugs and alcohol only causes side effects that may get worse over time. In addition, it can increase the risk of developing mental disorders. Since such conditions can be due to varying factors (e.g., environment and genetics), it’s difficult to conclude whether abusing drugs or alcohol causes them.

Mental Health Issues Or Substance Abuse

However, if you’re at risk of developing a mental health issue, taking substances in excess may push you to your limits. For example, the heavy use of opioid pain relievers can increase the risk of depression.

Substance abuse can worsen the symptoms of a mental health condition or even produce new symptoms. Substances can also interact with existing medications, such as mood stabilizers and antidepressants. It makes them less effective and causes a delay in recovery.

Therefore, if you or a loved one suffers from a mental health disorder or addiction, seek professional help and visit facilities like Jackson House Addiction and Recovery Center.

How To Cope With Co-Occurring Disorders?

Below are some tips that may help you manage the symptoms of co-occurring disorders. Before you proceed with any of the practices to be discussed, verify with your healthcare provider first.

1. Get An Accurate Diagnosis Of Your Condition

Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step to managing co-occurring disorders. An individual can be diagnosed with dual diagnosis if their current condition meets certain diagnostic requirements, such as:

  • Criteria for specific mental health conditions
  • Showing signs of being a threat not only to themselves but also to other people (e.g., driving while intoxicated or suicidal thoughts)
  • A history of addiction that negatively affects their relationships, work, school, family, and health.

When you exhibit these, healthcare professionals may conclude that you need immediate treatment and are motivated to be treated and detoxified. And by learning more about your co-occurring conditions, they can create a treatment plan that works best for you.

You may receive your diagnosis by seeking help from a psychiatrist. But if you don’t know how to start the process, talk to your local health department or primary care physician for assistance.

Furthermore, you can also assess yourself and how you’ve been doing lately to see if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Using substances to cope with sadness or anger 
  • Drastic personality changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, etc.) 
  • Unusual behavior 
  • Sudden bursts of energy 
  • Self-isolation from family and friends 
  • No longer interested in activities that were previously enjoyed 
  • Hopelessness and worthlessness 
  • Panic, anxiety, and fear 

These symptoms may co-exist with alcoholism and drug addiction. Although you can conduct a preliminary assessment of yourself, it’s still best to consult a healthcare provider. It’s crucial to receive an accurate diagnosis to manage your symptoms effectively.

2. Undergo Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is crucial for treating alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health disorders. It’s one of the most effective treatment options because it helps people:

  • Identify the thoughts and behaviors associated with substance abuse
  • Manage feelings and emotions that trigger substance use
  • Foster independence and nurture self-love and self-esteem

Here are some types of psychotherapy that may help manage addiction and mental health issues at the same time:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps people identify maladaptive thought patterns, behaviors, and emotional responses and replace them with more desirable, objective, and realistic ones. 
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): MI helps people find the motivation to improve by resolving ambivalent feelings. For example, they want to overcome addiction but are too lazy.
  • Contingency Management (CM): CM is a great way to encourage individuals to pursue recovery by providing incentives. For every milestone achieved, they may receive rewards, such as discount coupons, movie tickets, and more.
  • Family Therapy: This type of psychotherapy aims to resolve problems within the household—problems that can lead to mental health issues or substance abuse (e.g., divorce, third-party relationships, abusive parents, etc.).  
  • Couples Therapy: This type of psychotherapy identifies and resolves the problems between couples that may have caused one or both to develop addiction or mental health issues.   

Other benefits of psychotherapy include peer support, enhanced coping skills, and relapse prevention. However, there are a few barriers to access people might experience, such as high costs, a lack of time, and negative opinions about psychotherapy.

3. Manage Stress

Although you can do nothing to avoid stress, there are ways to help you regain control and reduce the pressure.

Substance abuse often results from attempts to relieve stress. However, stress is a part of life; having a healthy way to cope without using substances is important.

Here are some stress management strategies that may help you cope with stress:

  • Apply The 4As Of Stress: Avoid unnecessary situations that may cause stress. If you can’t avoid those situations, alter them. If you can’t change them, accept things as they are and learn how to adapt by changing your attitude and expectations.
  • Get Moving: Engaging in physical activities is a great way to relieve stress, though it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing when stressed. Exercising releases feel-good hormones that also act as a distraction from your every day worries.
  • Connect With Other People: Spending quality time with people who understand you and make you feel safe can help relieve stress. Also, it’s a great way to keep anxiety and depression at bay. 
  • Have Fun And Relax: Always schedule a time for yourself, and never let yourself be caught up in your busy life. Remember that taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury but a necessity.
  • Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle: Eat a balanced and nutritious diet throughout the day, reduce caffeine and sugar intake, and get enough sleep. Living a healthy lifestyle will help you handle stressful situations effectively.

Healthy coping skills for stress can go a long way toward relieving symptoms and preventing relapse. Follow these strategies to keep the pressure under control without turning to alcohol or drugs

4. Cope With Unpleasant Emotions

Many people use substances to escape painful emotions like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. However, drugs and alcohol can only worsen things and increase the risk of developing mental health issues.  

Here are some ways to cope with painful emotions without turning to alcohol or drugs:

  • Be Reasonable: Try to be as reasonable as possible instead of drowning yourself in sorrow. Accept that unpleasant feelings are inevitable and think of ways to improve yourself.  
  • Try Relaxing Activities: Think of pleasant activities that can help you relax. You may read your favorite book, walk in the park, or talk to a close friend who understands where you’re coming from and makes your feel safe.  
  • Learn Your Emotions: Take a closer look at your emotions and analyze them. Notice how anger, grief, and sadness affect your feelings and which situations trigger those emotions to prepare yourself in advance. 
  • Let Go: Although it’s never easy to accept something so painful, you must let it go and free yourself from it. Reminiscing painful memories will rob you of your present and make you feel worse. 

Drugs and alcohol may cover up painful emotions and memories, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone. Instead of a band-aid solution, follow these healthy coping strategies to stabilize your feelings and emotions. 

5. Eat A Balanced, Nutritious Diet

Food is essential to managing your addiction and mental health issues. Start your day with a healthy breakfast and small meals to complete the day. Not eating for long periods can lower your blood sugar levels, making you vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Also, avoid eating sugary foods when feeling down because they can cause inflammation in different body parts and organs, including the brain. It helps reduce the risk of developing anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and other mood disorders. So, what should you eat instead?

  • Foods High In Folate: Also known as folic acid (vitamin B9), folate is believed to reduce the risk of depression. Foods rich in folate are leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, and fruits.  
  • Foods High In Vitamin D: Experts believe that the lack of vitamin D in the body can increase the risk of depression and seasonal affective disorder. To increase vitamin D levels in your body, eat foods (e.g., milk and orange juice) fortified with vitamin D and get five to 30 minutes of sun exposure (don’t forget to apply sunblock first). 
  • Foods High In Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to treat depression due to their mood-stabilizing effects and boost the effectiveness of conventional antidepressants. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, olive oil, almonds, walnuts, and dark green leafy vegetables.  

Other foods with mind-boosting effects include dark chocolate, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates (e.g., sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, etc.).

6. Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Most people say, ‘You woke up on the wrong side of the bed,’ if you’re in a bad mood. As it turns out, it’s partially correct. There’s a strong connection between sleep and mental and emotional health.

Sufficient sleep helps your brain process emotional information. When you’re asleep, the brain evaluates thoughts and remembers memories. Insufficient sleep can compromise positive emotions. It can negatively affect mood and behavior, leading to mental health disorders and increasing the risk of suicide.

Do you find it difficult to fall asleep these days? If you do, here are some sleep-inducing tips that may help optimize your body clock:

  • Avoid Caffeine In The Afternoon: You shouldn’t drink coffee past 3:00 p.m. because the caffeine may boost your energy levels at night, making it more difficult to fall asleep. 
  • Stay Away From Electronics Before Bedtime: Put down your mobile devices at least two hours before bedtime because the blue light they emit may interfere with your body’s natural melatonin production, making it more difficult to fall asleep. 
  • Limit Daytime Naps: Naps can boost your energy and help you stay alert throughout the day. However, too many naps can make it difficult to sleep at night. So, limit your daytime naps to 1-2 per day, each lasting up to 30 mins maximum. 
  • Create A Comfy Sleep Environment: Your bedroom should be cool, dark, quiet, and clean. It promotes melatonin production, helping you fall asleep.  
  • Create A Sleep Schedule: You must sleep and wake up simultaneously every day. For example, you should sleep at 9:00 p.m. and wake up at 5:00 am daily. It will reset your body clock to be emotionally stable throughout the day.

These tips will help you sleep comfortably at night, reducing the risk of developing mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Final Words

Managing co-occurring disorders means coping with substance abuse and mental health issues simultaneously. It may be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Follow the tips discussed above to manage your conditions effectively. Also, don’t hesitate to seek professional help, especially when your symptoms worsen.

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