It’s more than likely that you’ve heard of treatment for drug addictions, mental illnesses, eating disorders, and perhaps even personality disorders- yet the term “comorbidity” is still only recently making its way into our modern conversations. Comorbidity refers to the existence of two or more mental illnesses at the same time in an individual. This is also sometimes referred to as being “dual-diagnosis” in many mental health centers and rehabs. Those who are deemed as being comorbid face extra challenges when trying to recover from their mental disorders or substance abuse problems due to the added complexities that these troubling partnerships can bring.
However, what ought to be recognized is the fact that dynamic, thorough, and all-encompassing evaluations by mental health professionals and treatment plans must be made. Comorbid mental illnesses must be tackled all at once, as treating only one disorder at a time can prove to have less successful recovery rates. However, all-encompassing recovery is possible when approached appropriately.
What Are The Most Common Comorbid Disorders Accompanying Substance Abuse?
The most commonly-diagnosed mental illnesses that accompany a substance use disorder are anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Others exist, of course, but many health professionals in the world of psychiatry have observed these underlying illnesses as direct catalysts to substance abuse.
Some other disorders that exist among addicts and alcoholics include personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and more.
How Does Comorbidity Happen?
In order to understand how and why exactly comorbidity happens, we’d have to dive deeply into the facts that contribute to the making of addiction and other mental illnesses. This is, of course, extremely hard to pinpoint. For the most part, becoming comorbid, or developing more than one mental illness, is uncontrollable. More often than not, the development of one or more mental disorders in the same person is due to genetics or traumatic events during childhood or adulthood.
Similar regions of and chemicals in the brain are thought to be to blame when it comes to the side-by-side existence of many substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses. For example, schizophrenia and nicotine addiction both work heavily on the dopamine receptors in the brain. Other times, cocaine, meth, adderall, or other stimulant addictions accompanies some eating disorders. ADHD can even make people more prone to stimulant addictions later on!
Multiple addictions can exist at one time, as well. For (a hypothetical) example, gambling could go along with alcoholism in the case of one individual. Or, maybe someone’s anxiety disorder is deeply tied to their abuse of “downers” like benzodiazepines and, yes, alcohol.
Why Is It Important To Make Correct Diagnoses?
When someone is suffering from a behavioral addiction like a gambling addiction , a sex addiction, or a substance abuse disorder, the consequences can be painful, demorzalizing, and sometimes life-threatening. However, the consequences of disorders like an addiction can be lessened if an underlying mental disorder that could be perpetuating and encouraging an addiction is diagnosed and treated.
In other words, no one will understand the solution without first identifying the true underlying problems.
What Can Happen If A Correct Diagnosis Is Not Made?
What many people don’t understand when seeking mental health treatment or addiction treatment is that substance abuse disorders can stem directly from an untreated, underlying mental illness. Because addiction is overwhelming and powerful, sometimes underlying disorders aren’t recognized, identified, or diagnosed until much later than necessary.
For example, in certain studies, out of 323 inpatient patients in a treatment center with a substance use disorder, 240 of them, or 74.3%. were also diagnosed with another Axis I disorder. Axis I disorders are considered to be all psychiatric conditions except personality disorders and mental retardation, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Additionally, 238 (73.7%) had an Axis II disorder as well. Axis II, in the DSM-5, does include personality disorders. That’s a lot of comorbidity.
In these instances, addicts and alcoholics may seek help for their addictions or alcoholism without ever understanding the chemical imbalances that are causing them to self-medicate and causing them to continue to drown out their disorders. Of course, treating the symptoms without treating the source is only going to put bandaids on something that needs (metaphorical) invasive surgery.
If underlying or coexisting mental illnesses are not identified alongside the addiction or substance abuse disorder, then neither illness is going to improve. Inappropriate therapies may be applied and ineffective medications may be prescribed. This does no one any good.
In order for underlying mental illnesses and coexisting mental illnesses to be identified, professionals with the utmost experience must be sought out and utilized.
People that recovery from comorbid addictions or mental illnesses deserve the utmost respect. To tackle multiple monsters within someone’s mind at once is a brave and admirable task. If you know someone suffering from a mental illness or addiction, please encourage them to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.
It’s also important that everyone holds those who work in the field of psychiatry, mental health, and addiction treatment accountable to properly diagnosing and properly treating those with comorbid mental illnesses. Knowledge is power; in other words, the more distinct issues that a professional is able to identify in someone mentally struggling, the more appropriate, individualised, and effective solutions can be brought forth.
As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.