The term morbidity refers to the incidence of disease, and comorbidity is the occurrence of two disorders or illnesses in one individual. These disorders coexist when a person experiences the effects of both simultaneously, regardless of which disorder appeared first. The term is commonly used when describing a link between mental illness and drug abuse due to the high rate of occurrence of both disorders among American men and women.

Studies examining both types of disorders reveal that six out of ten people labeled with a substance abuse problem also live with a form of mental illness. The link by researchers does not conclude that mental illness caused the substance abuse or that substance abuse caused the mental illness. While it is possible that one disorder may have caused the other, the same risk factors may have caused both disorders in an individual.

Studies examining the occurrence of mental illness and drug abuse suggest one common risk factor may be genetic predisposition to both conditions. Research also suggests these individuals experience an increased risk of developing the second disorder after the first one appears. Those individuals with a genetic predisposition may also be more vulnerable to environmental factors, such as stress, physical and mental abuse, and diet.

 

Drug abuse and mental illness share another similarity in affecting certain areas of the brain. Those areas include the brain’s pleasure center and its limbic system, which is the primary area that deals with stress. These areas contain abnormalities coinciding with the occurrence of some mental disorders. These disorders and vulnerability may begin in childhood or adolescence if  drug use or physical abuse affects the brain during its developmental period.

Whatever the factors, the high rate of comorbid drug abuse and mental illness has prompted research to better understand the co-occurrence of these disorders. Studies have concluded that patients experiencing a mood or anxiety disorder are nearly twice as likely to abuse drugs. Also, drug abusers are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed later with a mood or anxiety disorder. In addition, men and women in drug treatment tend to exhibit different traits as an antisocial personality disorder appears more common in men, while depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders occur at higher rates among women.

Diagnosing comorbid drug abuse and mental illness requires a comprehensive approach to identify and evaluate the severity of both disorders. Individuals with comorbidity may experience more severe symptoms than patients diagnosed with a single disorder. Yet health care resources commonly available to an individual may only address the mental illness or the drug abuse without evaluating both in respect to each other.

A dual diagnosis approach involves evaluating both conditions and creating a plan for simultaneously treating the mental illness and drug abuse. This type of integrated treatment, over a long-term period, can provide solutions and strategies for an individual that do not conflict or contradict each other. Treatment can also help an individual distinguish between what symptoms are a result of a mental disorder and what symptoms are related to the substance abuse.

The long-term effects of integrated treatment are substantial. An individual diagnosed with and treated for both disorders may experience progress in one area that positively influences the other.

This is important due to the increased vulnerability to one disorder by the existence of the other.

Although the effectiveness of integrated treatment has been established, the practice of it is not yet routine. Most treatment facilities providing substance abuse intervention are not trained or equipped to diagnose and treat coinciding mental illness, which is typically treated by physicians. In some instances, a medication recommended to treat a mental disorder may not be allowed by a substance abuse treatment center.

Treatment options involving behavioral and pharmacological solutions offer an individual with comorbid drug abuse and mental disorders a greater chance at successfully recovering and managing the condition. Overcoming social stigmas attached to both drug abuse and mental illness to get an early diagnosis and treatment is crucial, and can put an individual on track to leading a healthy and productive life before the threat of chronic relapse develops.

Burning Tree provides a dual diagnosis and integrated treatment for comorbid substance abuse and mental illness. Treatment facilities outside of Dallas and Austin serve individuals from all 50 states in a long-term residential setting. Admissions representatives are available by phone to explain more about comorbidity. Reach them at 866-287-2877 or visit www.burningtree.com today.