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Treating Addiction with Co-Occurring Conditions

Addiction or alcoholism that occurs concurrently with other conditions is known as a Dual Diagnosis or Co-Occurring condition. (1)  Often such conditions serve to severely exacerbate substance abuse or drinking problems, and in some cases the condition can actually be a leading contributing factor in why the afflicted individual started abusing substances in the first place. However, dual diagnosis conditions pose a treatment dilemma for some people because many drug treatment centers and alcohol rehab programs incorrectly diagnose, prioritize and treat these conditions. Therefore, an accurate understanding of the relationship between addiction and co-occurring conditions is essential to developing an individualized treatment plan for lasting sobriety.

Regardless of what dual diagnosis conditions exist, it should be made clear right away that treating one will not alleviate the other. To clarify this, there is a movement that exists in the addiction treatment field that believes that addiction itself is not a disease but rather a symptom of the co-occurring condition. This could not be farther from reality. Because addiction and alcoholism are neurological diseases that can occur with or without other conditions, there must be separate treatment modalities to address both the addiction and the dual diagnosis condition. However, because people who suffer from addiction often suffer from other conditions as well (1), these treatment lines are often blurred to the great detriment of the patient.

In most cases co-occurring conditions are addressed during individual therapy sessions for addiction or alcoholism. The conditions that usually co-occur with addiction are generally psychological in nature and therefore must be treated with further individual therapy as well as medication where required. In general, the conditions that co-occur with substance abuse problems are:

  • OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: This condition often occurs with addiction because addiction is a compulsive type disease: “I MUST have or do this thing right NOW.” People who suffer from OCD often have irrational thought patterns and intense feelings of inexplicable helplessness.
  • Panic Disorder: Panic and anxiety disorders can cause a great deal of physical and social problems. Often people suffering from this condition will be unable to handle stress properly and can become so emotionally distraught that physical manifestations develop such as shaking, tremors, fainting and severe nervousness.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar sufferers experience manic episodes of epic proportions without any discernable cause. This condition often co-occurs with addiction or alcoholism and in many cases people suffering from both can become violent or suicidal.
  • Depression: Clinical depression is a serious condition that manifests differently for different people. Long term bouts of depression have been known to cause people to seek relief in the form of drugs or alcohol, ultimately leading to an addiction; especially if the person was already genetically predisposed to addictive behaviors.
  • PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Whether caused by some traumatic physical or emotional event, PTSD can be deadly when combined with alcoholism or substance abuse.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: People suffering from this condition have extreme difficulties maintaining interpersonal relationships and therefore often develop other conditions such as depression or anxiety, further exacerbating co-occurring addiction problems.

While the occurrence of any of these conditions together with addiction or alcoholism is common, there should be distinction in how each is treated. If you’re suffering from substance abuse or alcohol problems, then you need treatment for that first and foremost. This can occur at a residential inpatient treatment center or an alcohol outpatient treatment program. During this treatment, individual therapy sessions will help to diagnose and treat any co-occurring conditions. This is because while none of the above conditions are deadly, addiction IS a progressive and fatal disease. For more information about addiction and co-occurring conditions, please call us right now.

(1) Medline Plus  Dual Diagnosis

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More