Insight for the Journey: Understanding the Complexities of Co-occurring Disorders

Insight for the Journey: Understanding the Complexities of Co-occurring Disorders

Defining Co-occurring Disorders
Co-occurring disorders refers to an individual having one or more substance abuse disorders and one or more psychiatric disorders. The mental health problem and the substance abuse problem interact with each other and commonly increase the severity of both. This interaction between the two slows the rate of recovery, makes treatment more complicated and increases the likelihood of relapse. But severity is not the chief difficulty. Rather, it’s the complexity of the problem that requires specialized treatment. There are several common ways to approach the treatment of co-occurring disorders.

Sequential Treatments
In sequential treatment models, one disorder is chosen to target first, followed by treatment for the second disorder. What that means is the substance abuse issues may be handled separately from mental health treatments. The separate treatments are often done in different clinics or in different care systems. In the past, treatment centers would sometimes suggest that substance abuse difficulties be dealt with first and the mental health issues could be targeted at a later point in time.

Parallel Treatment
Another model is called parallel treatment. This approach uses distinct interventions that target each disorder separately. These treatments may be conducted at the same time but are often delivered by different providers. Although more helpful, this model of treatment is still not very integrated.

Fully Integrated Treatment
The most effective treatment is an integrated model that includes psychiatric, psychological, and addiction treatment services. Integrated treatment leads to higher recovery success rates. NorthStar Regional is a fully integrated program using clinicians who are dually licensed substance abuse and mental health providers. Our fully integrated program treats substance use and mental health disorders at the same time, in the same place, using the same treatment team.

Making a Difference
Effective co-occurring disorder treatment materials and programs identify the warning signs of worsening substance abuse and worsening mental health problems. The best co-occurring disorder treatments offer direct access to psychiatric providers to treat mental health conditions. These integrated programs, and the curriculum materials they use, provide evidence-based treatment for co-occurring disorders. Remember that good outcomes require good resources.

Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!

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