Treating alcoholism is always tricky. It is an illness that is both physical and psychological. Once a person has detoxed from alcohol, they still need to manage urges and recover on an emotional level. But the complications don’t stop there. There are a number of co-occurring disorders that are often diagnosed alongside alcoholism.
Let’s take a look at what a co-occurring disorder is, why it happens, and the disorders that co-occur most commonly with alcoholism.
What is a co-occurring disorder?
A co-occurring disorder is any other psychological disorder diagnosed in an individual with alcoholism. So, if a person is recovering from alcoholism and depression, they are said to have co-occurring disorders.
Co-occurring disorders are incredibly common with alcoholism. This is also referred to as a dual diagnosis, and the best rehab centers treat these disorders together.
Why does this happen?
Co-occurring disorders and alcoholism are linked in two directions. Often, it is an underlying psychological condition that leads to alcoholism. A person suffering with OCD, for example, may start drinking to drown out obsessive thoughts.
Alcoholism can also lead other psychological disorders to emerge. A person with alcoholism may start using alcohol as a way to cope with strong emotions, eroding their once-healthy coping mechanisms. The lack of these coping mechanisms can lead to depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
With this understanding, we can begin to appreciate why certain disorders commonly co-occur with alcoholism.
What are the most common co-occurring disorders with alcoholism?
Some of the most common disorders co-occurring with alcoholism include:
Depression is a mental illness characterized by despair, low motivation, and hopelessness, along with many other difficult feelings and thoughts. It can lead to self-harm and suicide, because the experience is so painful.
People who suffer from depression may start using alcohol as a way of numbing or forgetting the experience. Furthermore, depression is often characterized by a difficulty managing powerful emotions. Alcoholism contributes to the erosion of the ability to do so.
There are a number of types of anxiety, all of which co-occur with addiction. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry and fear, catastrophizing, and over-thinking. Alcohol and substances are often used to numb these feelings and quiet the thoughts.
At first, substances may seem like a useful way of lowering anxiety, but in the absence of healthy coping mechanisms, the person quickly becomes dependent on them. They become less effective, while it becomes more difficult for the person to function on a day-to-day basis.
Many people battling anxiety have found so-called “liquid courage” in alcohol. They may become dependent on alcohol for social situations or to calm themselves when the anxiety feels overwhelming. Once a person begins to rely on alcohol to manage anxiety, the anxiety disorder only gets worse.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD):
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is sometimes classified as an anxiety disorder. Characterized by obsessive thoughts, it is one of the most common co-occurring disorders with alcoholism. People suffering from OCD often use alcohol to quiet the thoughts or shut their minds down.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) refers to a mental illness which is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. A person with OCD will generally obsess about the physical or emotional danger of one or more day-to-day events, and will use certain ritualistic actions (or compulsions) to try and assuage these thoughts.
People with OCD start using substances to try and drown out the obsessive thoughts. They often turn to alcohol and other downers, rather than substances that might increase their awareness. Eventually, they need more and more of the substance to quiet the thoughts, and addiction becomes a co-occurring disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience symptoms associated with hyperawareness. PTSD occurs when someone has experienced a trauma and their nervous system has not returned to normal, instead acting as if the danger is still present.
Because PTSD causes hyperawareness, sufferers often use downers to quiet the thoughts, numb out the feelings, or simply to get to sleep.
These are the most common co-occurring disorders, but many other mood and personality disorders can co-occur with addiction. Without treating co-occurring disorders, addiction treatment cannot be effective. Make sure you get the right treatment, at a facility that prioritizes co-occurring disorders.
People who suffer from insomnia know that it can be very distressing not to be able to get to sleep. They sometimes turn to alcohol both to quiet anxious thoughts and to precipitate a loss of consciousness. Alcohol is not very effective at causing sleep or keeping one asleep, and the person starts to use more alcohol more often, leading to addiction.
Because alcoholism is so often accompanied by co-occurring disorders, it is imperative that rehab centers take a dual-diagnosis. By treating the co-occurring disorders together with the alcoholism, they can ensure that there are as few later complications as possible.