alcohol and co occuring disorder

Alcohol & Co-Occurring Disorders

When someone struggles with alcohol addiction, it is almost always inextricably connected to another battle: a battle for the mind. Often referred to as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, alcoholism occurs with a mental health issue or other substance use in at least 50% of cases, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It’s like the disorders are two sides of the same coin.

Why are co-occurring disorders so common? Simply put: Physical health and mental health are intricately connected.

Why are co-occurring disorders so common? Simply put: Physical health and mental health are intricately connected. Chemical imbalances, which occur when the body and brain become alcohol dependent or addicted, exacerbate mood swings, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. The pervasive nature of these conditions can often lead you to self-medicate.

Alcoholism and Co-Occurring Disorders

What, then, are the most common co-occurring disorders (CODs) that accompany alcohol addiction?

Depressive disorders or depression affects 264 million people of all ages worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Persistent, often overwhelming feelings of sadness, low mood or energy, inability to sleep, and other symptoms negatively impact a person’s ability to function in everyday life. Genetic factors, environment, personality traits, trauma, stress, and other issues contribute to depression. National Library of Medicine (NLM) research indicates that either an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or diagnosis of depression doubles your chances of developing the other.

Bipolar disorder, a condition that impacts 4% of US adults, is characterized by severe mood swings and behavioral changes. Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder manifests in periods of mania (euphoria and hyperactivity) lasting at least seven days followed by periods of deep depression. According to one NLM study, 56% of individuals with bipolar disorder had a lifetime substance use disorder.

Everyone experiences a degree of anxiety occasionally, but with anxiety disorders, anxiety is a constant companion that never goes away and can easily and suddenly worsen. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread that interferes with day-to-day function. Other anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobia-related disorders, all of which are exacerbated by or likely to contribute to substance use disorders (SUDs).

Research indicates that either an alcohol use disorder or diagnosis of depression doubles your chances of developing the other.

Mental health disorders and alcoholism are so common, it’s only natural to wonder how closely they are connected. 

Which Came First?

We may never fully understand how alcohol or substance use disorder and co-occurring disorders are so interwoven. According to NIDA, mental health disorders and alcohol misuse are frequent companions, but uncovering which came first is a chicken-egg proposition. Even if symptoms of one surface before symptoms of the other, a conclusion as to which came first is still nearly impossible to determine.

depressed woman drinking alone

For example, a seemingly mild mental health issue with depression might lead you to increase alcohol or drug consumption, which can manifest in symptoms common to both disorders. Likewise, substance abuse can negatively impact brain circuitry and function, causing neurological changes that are also present in mental health disorders.

These similarities indicate risk factors common to both alcohol and mental health disorders, including:

  • Genetic vulnerabilities – An estimated 40–60% of your vulnerability to substance use disorders is directly related to genetics.
  • Brain circuitry – The circuits in the brain that impact decision-making, impulse control, and emotions can be disrupted by addictive substances as well as by depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders.
  • Environmental factors – Studies suggest that environmental factors interact with genetic vulnerability during particular developmental periods to increase the risk for co-occurring disorders
  • Stress – Stress in childhood and ongoing stress can cause long-term impairment in brain function that influences motivation, learning, and adaptability if you suffer from addiction and mental health disorders.
  • Childhood trauma – If you were physically or emotionally traumatized, you are at much higher risk for drug use and SUDs.

Treatment that Includes the Whole Person

Regardless of which came first, addiction or the co-occurring disorder, there is no doubt that some people are genetically and environmentally set up for a two-way fight.

And yet, you are more than your alcohol disorder. You are more than your mental health disorder.

At The Meadows Outpatient Center, we understand that drug and alcohol addiction is most likely a symptom of untreated trauma or mental health issues. Addiction and co-occurring disorders go hand in hand. That’s why we address not just the substance use, but the root causes, resulting in true healing and genuine, lasting recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol or substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, it is never too late to get help. Reach out today to learn more about how The Meadows Outpatient Center can start you on your journey to wellness.

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