When an addict goes to rehab, they are given extensive exams upon arrival. Any good facility will give them a medical screening, mental health analysis, as well as the standard drug toxicology tests. All of these are meant to establish baselines for treatment, and to know where a person is mentally and physically on their arrival. The mental health aspect of addiction treatment is incredibly important because mental illness and addiction go hand in hand.

Co-Occurring Mental Illness and Addiction

In treatment, you will often hear of co-occurring disorders. This refers to the diagnosis of a mental disorder like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder along with addiction. It is vital to treat both separately, but also at the same time to ensure the client’s best shot at sustained sobriety.

Mental illness can easily contribute to an addiction when people attempt to self-medicate. Symptoms of various mood disorders can become so overwhelming for a person that they don’t know how to cope. Many times, they may feel as if they struggle to get through their day to day lives. Out of desperation, they may turn to alcohol or drugs. Soon, they may find that they need drugs to feel normal and their addiction slowly spirals out of control.

Just like with addiction, there is still a stigma around mental health. Often, people avoid seeking treatment because they think people will label them as “crazy” and abnormal. Instead, they seek solace at the bottom of a drink or a drug in order to keep their situation private. This almost always backfires, because the addiction becomes much stronger than the person and their ability to deal with their mood disorder.

A vicious cycle is eventually born, where the drugs and alcohol are actually making things worse for the person, and they need more and more to feel less of their anxiety and depression. At the same time, the alcohol or drugs are making panic attacks, bipolar disorder, and depression much worse. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken with professional treatment.

Treating Co-Occurring DisordersMental Illness and Addiction Co Occurring

It is incredibly important for patients to receive the correct diagnosis for any mood disorder when they enter treatment for drugs and alcohol. Many people may not even realize they have a mood disorder, but they will feel an enormous sense of relief once it is diagnosed and treated appropriately. Often, the desire to drink or use drugs will dramatically subside just by addressing the mood disorder.

At the same time that addiction is treated, it is important to diagnose and treat any underlying mood disorder with therapy and non-habit-forming medication as is appropriate. The goal is that once a patient leaves treatment, their mental disorder is under control, and there is a solid long-term care plan to make sure it stays that way. Treating mental illness and addiction together is a central part of staying sober.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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