So often, an addiction is complicated by the presence of mental illness. That mental health disorder, though, isn’t often addressed during addiction treatment despite the enormous number of cases in which both conditions are present. Why is this, and what can we do to change it in order to find the best help possible for these patients with co-occurring disorders?

How Can We Help Those with Co-Occurring Disorders?

According to a recent SAMHSA survey, “of the 43.5 million people with a mental illness, 20 percent of people suffer with both substance use disorders and mental illness, representing over 8 million people with co-occurring substance use and mental illness.” This is a huge number of people, of course, and to have to work through both a mental health disorder in addition to issues of substance abuse is more than a single person could deal with on their own.

How are these situations addressed by the professionals committed to helping the people who bear them? According to the research, they aren’t often being addressed at all. Even if the patient receives help for an addiction OR for mental illness, very few receive the care they need to combat both. Since addiction can often lead to the development of mental illness, or vice versa, it’s absolutely crucial for professionals to be able to identify these states and to be equipped to deal with them. Otherwise, the individual is likely to continue to suffer with half of their problems undiagnosed.

What should these addiction treatment professionals do, then, in order to diagnose and help a greater number of people who may have co-occurring disorders? They must be able to identify both situations: mental illness and addiction. This seems like a given. In addition, there have to be changes to the mistakes that are currently being made: “lack of attention to signs and symptoms of substance use disorders; non-disclosure by patients who do not report substance-related problems when evaluated; and under-diagnosis and lack of treatment when a substance use disorder is known to be present.” Starting to gradually make changes to the state of things will have hugely positive effects for the people who are currently suffering.

There may be some blame with the patients, though, who could (at least unconsciously) be misleading their health care professional. If the individual isn’t actually admitting to having certain problems, or just isn’t describing it to its full extent, then the provider won’t know the truth of the situation. Whether this is done intentionally or not, it causes issues in that it prevents the person from receiving the kind of care that they truly need. After all, how could that care be provided if the doctor isn’t aware of the extent of the issue?

Finally, for those who co-occurring disorders involve alcohol abuse, there is another challenge entirely. “Alcohol use disorders are often hard to accept because alcohol is legal and part of social fabric for many, including doctors.” This obviously makes it more difficult to be identified as an issue serious enough to warrant action, since it is socially acceptable (to a degree). Even if loved ones are suspicious that the drinking has ventured into ‘abuse’ territory, they may still not feel comfortable talking to the loved one about it, or to a health professional.

Help starts with an honest conversation about one’s addictive state and his or her mental health. If you are worried about the possibility of co-occurring disorders, then contact The Bergand Group. We offer recovery programs for yourself or for others or are seeking education materials about addictions. The Bergand Group is Maryland’s leading addiction treatment and recovery center and offers support for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, including direction for those who may be denying an addiction.  We can help you to work through your addiction in a safe and healthy environment where everyone is committed to your care.

About The Bergand Group:

At The Bergand Group in Baltimore and Harford County, Maryland, our therapists have more than twenty years of experience in the mental health and addiction fields. Our focus is on providing comprehensive mental health care and appropriate care for addictive disorders. We offer both alcohol rehab and drug rehabilitation. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or substance addiction, there is help available. We also offer several other services, including family therapy and counseling. We can help. Contact us today.