3 Treatment Options For Co-Occurring Disorders

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It’s regarded in the medical community that one’s overall health and well-being consist of different aspects. These include the physical, spiritual, social, and mental health of a person. 

The popular discussions about mental health nowadays are believed to be encouraged and fueled by the continuous and collective efforts of advocates and mental health practitioners worldwide. One of their goals is to relieve mental health of the stigma and negative stereotypes affixed to it. 

Having the right knowledge about mental health concerns may help alleviate the dangers caused by misinformation and ignorance many have about having a mental disorder. This understanding positively affects the lives of people with mental health issues, and those of their loved ones. Becoming sensitive and aware of the significance of the subject will help push society toward sustaining a collective effort to combat mental illness on a large scale.

Getting deeper into the discussion about mental health, what if a person has two or more overlapping conditions? Can the person still lead a normal life, post-treatment? Continue reading to learn more. 

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders And Are They Treatable?

Co-occurring disorders, as the name implies, involve the existence of two mental conditions in a person at the same time. In most cases, one condition has led to the other and is often exacerbating its severity.

This coexistence of the given mental health concerns in a person’s mind is difficult to approach since usually either or both of them are chronic brain disorders. In simple words, the brain is said to be in a disarray, and it needs a rewiring to ‘reverse’ the effects of the existing mental conditions. 

When co-occurring disorders involve substance use disorders (SUDs), one of the affected brain systems is the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, or the reward system of the brain. With this system being the one regulating pleasure or gratification through rewards, SUDs are tricky to treat since they’re already embedded in the person’s internal reward system.

As opposed to popular belief, co-occurring disorders are treatable and manageable. True enough, the journey’s going to be difficult. But it’s conquerable. Persons who have them have it rough, but a number of options are available to help them get through the dual disorders. 

Here are three treatment options for co-occurring disorders:

Residential Treatment

Given the dual nature of the health issue in question, it’s unpredictable whether or not a person develops co-occurring disorders. And since most dual diagnoses has SUD as one of the concerns, having the patient monitored round the clock can help them manage their symptoms more properly. Here is where residential treatment becomes useful.

There are a lot of residential treatment facilities out there. They vary in the depth of care and amenities that are available to the patient. It’s important to select a place where holistic treatment is given. Click here to know more.

Patients who suffer from SUDs must have an immediate response team standing by, especially if they’re still vulnerable to withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, the co-occurring mental condition is brought about by the withdrawal from the substance (either drugs, alcohol, or both). 

To further elaborate, below are some withdrawal symptoms commonly experienced by people who suffer from SUD:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Nausea and dizziness 
  • Tremors
  • Irregular eating habits which oftentimes include loss of appetite
  • Restlessness 
  • Vomiting

Aside from the list above, most people experience a sudden loss of purpose and increased anxiety, so much that these develop into a separate condition. This is why admitting the patient to a residential facility helps in keeping an eye out for the early signs of co-occurring disorders.

Integrated Treatment

Integrated treatment refers to the combination of therapeutic, psychological, psychiatric, and rehabilitative interventions to treat the two conditions at the same time. In most cases, the conditions feed off of each other. Hence, treating them simultaneously may help decrease the severity of each one.

In addition, going for integrated treatment makes more sense from a psychotherapeutic and medical standpoint. Since both conditions are, in most cases, chronic brain disorders, treating them separately is believed to be inefficient and will become ineffective given the brain’s neuroplasticity (i.e., its ability to change).

Note that some symptoms of the two conditions overlap. For instance, an individual who suffers from both SUD and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has most likely coped with their trauma by being dependent on alcohol (or drugs). To this person, sobriety means getting drunk to stop the traumatic events from replaying in their mind.

A second example is when a patient has both ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and SUD. ADHD-diagnosed persons are known for their impulsiveness (e.g., having very little sense of danger). This symptom overlaps with SUD patients’ propensity to participate in risky behaviors. In this scenario, a loved-one may not realize that there are two existing conditions in their patient.

In the above cases, approaching the issues separately—treating the substance dependence first before processing PTSD or ADHD, or vice versa—will be ineffective, especially because the overlapping symptoms mutually benefit both disorders and characterize each other. 

One advantage of integrated treatment is that it involves all the levels of care in and approaches to treating mental disorders. This involves therapeutic interventions appropriate for the patient’s conditions (for example, sessions with a psychiatrist, confinement in a residential facility, and others) and rehabilitative interventions (e.g., out-patient aftercare). 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be a psychotherapeutic intervention initially, but it deserves a separate section, considering its reported potency in addressing co-occurring disorders.

Through a licensed therapist, CBT works by remapping the person’s thinking patterns and discerning which thoughts or thought patterns are irrational. By doing so, they help their client have healthier thinking patterns, therefore empowering their patients in making better and more careful decisions in the future.

This kind of therapy is believed to work well in mitigating SUDs. And generally, CBT is said to be effective in handling the other co-occurring disorder at the same time. CBT practitioners propose that because the said onset of substance dependence or the symptoms of the other condition are due to unhealthy thinking patterns, correcting the said patterns may re-align the patient’s behaviors and desires to healthier habits. 

A related therapy, or more aptly, its predecessor, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), posits that thoughts, feelings, and emotions carry a ‘philosophical’ weight more than a cognitive one. This, in turn, leads the person to do a certain behavior. 

In relation to SUDs, both CBT and REBT can be used to identify most of the thoughts, emotions, and feelings that eventually resulted in a patient’s substance dependence. Addressing the underlying reasons, and not the resulting behavior, is said to be more effective, especially if the goal is to help the person have a better decision-making foundation moving forward. 

Denial is regarded as an overlapping symptom to most co-occurring disorders. People who suffer from addiction would often deny that they’re already losing control over their substance use. Additionally, those who suffer from depression, for example, would often have feelings of denial about needing help. 

Addressing these feelings of denial and other overlapping symptoms, can be navigated through more easily with the help of CBT or other therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy). The intervention does this by correcting the thoughts that led to these feelings in the first place. You can learn more about this comprehensive psychotherapy with EMDR Training.


Those with co-occurring disorders need help. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that someone needs help, let alone giving it to those who need it badly. While the coexistence of two mental conditions may seem impossible, anything can be managed with the right knowledge and the right help from licensed and experienced medical professionals, and well-equipped patient treatment facilities.