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Withdrawal Treatment and Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorder withdrawal treatment, also referred to as dual-diagnosis withdrawal treatment, is recommended when a patient with a preexisting medical illness or mental health disorder is addicted to or dependent on drugs or alcohol. A co-occurring disorder, which is also referred to as a dual disorder, refers to the presence of addiction occurring at the same time as one or more mental health disorders or communicable diseases. For example, a person might have an addiction to opiates or pain medication and also suffer from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or an infectious disease at the same time. Drug withdrawal symptoms resulting from detoxification or the cessation of drug use can exacerbate or intensify the co-occurring disorder symptoms.

A co-occurring disorder is not limited to just one health issue existing simultaneously with drug or alcohol addiction. People with co-occurring disorders may be suffering from multiple mental health disorders or communicable diseases that may be directly related to or occur at the same time as their addiction. Patients are usually diagnosed with addiction to a particular drug with a co-occurring disorder if one or more mental health disorders or infectious diseases can be identified independently of the addiction. A co-occurring disorder is not diagnosed if the symptoms are believed to be a direct result of the addiction. For example, an alcoholic may feel depressed as a result of broken relationships caused by their addiction but may not be clinically depressed. This patient may not be diagnosed as an alcoholic with a co-occurring disorder because the symptoms are related directly to the addiction rather than a mental health disorder.

A mental health or behavioral disorder co-occurring with alcoholism or drug addiction is not uncommon. More than half of all patients battling alcoholism or drug addiction also experience mental health issues. In some cases, the mental health disorder is present first and leads to alcohol or drug abuse as the disorder progresses or intensifies. The patient may use drugs or alcohol to feel better and to temporarily relieve the symptoms caused by the mental disorder. As the symptoms are exacerbated by the addition of alcohol or drugs, the patient requires the drug or alcohol more frequently to keep the symptoms at bay, and addiction rapidly occurs. In other cases, the addiction may occur first and lead to emotional and mental health problems, such as chronic anxiety or depression, over time.

Addiction and mental health disorders are both complex processes that vary from patient to patient in severity, progression and symptoms. Both are influenced significantly by the environment, drug influences, and genetic vulnerability. For example, some people have a higher genetic risk for certain mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Others may live in conditions that encourage or help maintain a disorder, such as living with an alcoholic or drug addicted spouse or parent. For others, drugs that may or may not have been prescribed by a physician to treat a diagnosed disorder might make them more vulnerable to substance abuse.

Because alcoholism and drug addiction with co-occurring mental or behavioral disorders is a complex diagnosis, the U.S. Department of Health recommends coordinating treatments for both substance abuse and mental health, which means treating the whole person rather than each disorder independently. This treatment process is called integrated co-occurring disorder withdrawal treatment or dual-diagnosis withdrawal treatment, and it combines treatment for mental illness and drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms utilizing the same medical professional or treatment team as part of the treatment plan.

Most states have public mental health centers that offer this type of treatment in a variety of settings, but patients may also benefit from private inpatient treatment centers.

Withdrawal from Drugs with a Communicable Disease

Drug withdrawal symptoms can pose health risks to people who are also dealing with a communicable disease such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, syphilis, herpes or bacterial infections. The causes of these diseases may or may not be related to drug use; however, in every case, drug withdrawal treatment for infected people must include options for treating the communicable disease along with the withdrawal symptoms in the treatment plan.

Co-occurring disorder withdrawal treatment when the patient has a communicable disease should be carried out in a medical environment. Direct medication therapy, in which the patient takes the required medications to treat the symptoms of the disease in the presence of a healthcare provider, is recommended for patients detoxing from drugs with a co-occurring communicable disease.

For people struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction with co-occurring mental health disorders or communicable diseases, the primary goal is to ensure physical safety and overall good health because this increases the chances for successful long-term recovery. If you or someone you know is battling addiction with co-occurring health disorders, call 1-888-658-5242, a 24/7 free hotline, for confidential advice about your co-occurring disorder withdrawal treatment options.

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