When you have both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder, this is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis. Dealing with SUD is not easy and can become more complex when managing a mental health disorder. In a co-occurring disorder, both mental health and drug or alcohol-related use each have unique symptoms that could get in the way of your ability to function and maintain your recovery and life. Further, co-occurring disorders often affect each other. If either goes untreated, the disorders become worse.

If you are treating your substance use but not your mental health disorder, you can soon find yourself on the path toward relapse. However, it is essential to understand that you can do things to manage each disorder successfully. It starts with educating yourself on the signs of alcoholism and drug addiction and the signs of mental health disorders. With the proper support, self-help and treatment, you can overcome a co-occurring disorder and reclaim your sense of self.


Which Comes First, the Mental or Substance Use Disorder?

SUDs and mental health disorders are closely linked, although one does not necessarily cause the other. Establishing causality or directionality is challenging for several reasons. However, using substances can worsen mental health symptoms. If you are someone who uses alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, you might not have recognized your substance use and feelings of anxiety or depression as two separate occurring disorders. Further, using drugs and other substances to self-medicate creates side effects and causes more symptoms in the long run.

Because mental health problems occur through a complex interplay of genetics, environment and other factors, it is difficult to determine if drugs and alcohol are the direct cause. However, research does suggest that if you are at risk for a mental health issue, using alcohol or drugs can trigger a mental health disorder. Drug use that occurs before mental health symptoms may produce changes in brain structure and function that kindle an underlying predisposition to develop a particular mental health disorder.


Recognizing a Dual Diagnosis

While it is complex to determine whether your mental health disorder created your substance use or the other way around, it can become just as complicated to identify a diagnosis. Diagnosis from a professional will take the time to determine what might be a mental health disorder or symptoms caused by substance use. Symptoms differ depending on the mental health issue and the substance used. However, some general warning signs suggest a co-occurring disorder: 

  • Do you use alcohol to cope with unpleasant memories or feelings to control pain and your mood?
  • Have you noticed the relationship between your mental health and substance use? For example, do you become depressed when you drink or feel anxious?
  • Is there any family history of substance use and mental health disorders?
  • Do you feel out of balance even when you are sober? Have you sought treatment for substance use or a mental health disorder?


Dual Diagnosis and Denial

When you are experiencing either a SUD or a mental health disorder, denial is common. It might be hard to admit how dependent you are on alcohol or drugs and how much they affect your life. Likewise, the symptoms of depression or anxiety can be frightening; therefore, you might ignore them and hope they pass or go away altogether. You might also experience shame or being viewed as weak if you admit you have a problem. Substance use and mental health issues can happen to anybody. Acknowledging that you have a problem and seeking help is the first step toward recognizing and diagnosing a co-occurring disorder.


Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

The most effective treatment takes an integrated approach to simultaneously treat both your mental and substance use disorders. No longer should the question be about which came first and if one could lead to the other; rather, the approach should be how to diagnose and move to find the proper treatment. Depending on your diagnosis, treatment might include medication, individual or group counseling, self-help and support groups. However, you might need time to detox and manage withdrawal symptoms and then move toward behavioral therapy. 

Each treatment you receive will recognize the separate disorders and work to help you manage each. When seeking treatment, you should look for a professionally licensed practice that has experience with both mental health and addiction.


At New Hope Ranch, we offer dual diagnosis treatment. For us, it is not a question of which one of your disorders incites the other, but rather a question of how fast you should act to find out. The answer is now. If you use substances to manage your emotions and feelings, it is time to get help. Likewise, if you are in recovery and your feelings of anxiety and depression are triggering you to want to use, then the time to get help is now. At New Hope Ranch, we offer both conventional and alternative practices to diagnose and treat patients because we believe that treatment is not a one-size-fits-all philosophy. The staff and peers alike in the New Hope Ranch community will work to motivate and inspire you to strive beyond your disorders and discover your true self and your true purpose. Remember, your recovery always comes first. To get started on finding the correct care that will meet your needs, reach out to New Hope Ranch in Manor, Texas, today by calling (737) 600-8565