Dual Diagnosis / Co-Occurring Disorders in Young Men

“Mental illness” and “drug addiction” are two terms that we often hide from—two terms that still carry a tremendous stigma amongst our society today. All the while, they remain present amid our communities, our loved ones, our children—and often go unrecognized and/or untreated. Out of fear of the unknown, we frequently shade our eyes to those struggling with both substance addiction and mental health, and fail to realize just how common they are, and how detrimental their combination can be—especially in our youth today.

co-occurring disorders and substance abuse Every year, approximately one in every five adults, or 44 million Americans, experiences some type of mental disorder. Of these individuals, nearly 9 million simultaneously suffer from a drug or alcohol addiction. And yet, the majority of those afflicted never receive treatment for both. 

Individuals who struggle with both a substance use disorder and a psychiatric disorder are diagnosed as having co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders. This coexistence within a single person is also known as a dual diagnosis. We see it more than we’d like to admit: a person with depression is also dependent on alcohol; a friend with a panic disorder has become addicted to marijuana. Substance abuse can co-occur with any mental disorder, such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolarity, and vice versa. There is no single combination that gives an individual a co-occurring disorder, and either one can arise first.

Because their symptoms often mimic one another’s, it can be difficult to determine which disorder came first. Sometimes, the existence of a mental illness can cause a person to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. This can quickly spiral into a substance addiction. On the other hand, a substance use disorder can fuel serious emotional and mental issues. Drug and alcohol addiction alters brain chemistry, impairing one’s ability to control behaviors, make decisions, and assess situations rationally. Like mental illness, addiction resides in the brain. When the two share the same space, they grow together and feed off of one another.

Of the millions of people battling co-occurring disorders today, about 89 percent are believed to have developed mental illness first. The scary part is discovering when: On average, the onset of mental illness usually occurs by a mere 11 years old. If and when it occurs, substance addiction generally follows between the ages of 17-21. 

Young adults are extremely vulnerable to addiction as it is. Because of their state of brain development, adolescents will turn to drugs or alcohol to feel more like an adult, to fit in with their friends, to experiment, or simply to deal with frustrations “on their own.” Yet teens who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses are even more susceptible. Instead of seeking help, they choose to use drugs or alcohol to deal with their inner demons, not fully understanding the risks. If one already has a mental illness, even the slightest threshold of substance use can be damaging and disabling. 

Compared to those individuals with one single disorder (substance dependence or mental disorder), those with dual disorders often experience the most severe of symptoms and negative consequences when left untreated. Their medical, social, and emotional issues are worsened. Youth in particular are in higher risk of suicide, hospitalization, social isolation, violence, victimization, incarceration, and relapse. 

While we cannot necessarily predict the development of co-occurring disorders, we can prevent them by protecting those who are most at risk. Adolescents with anxiety, depression, ADHD, and conduct disorders, for example, are more inclined to develop a substance use disorder later in life. Men are also more prone to dual disorders than women. 

For those battling mental health and substance addiction, the fight is not solely in the disorders alone. Oftentimes, people with co-occurring disorders assume that their problems are not intertwined, or that one is not that “big of a deal” in comparison, and do not seek out proper treatment. According to SAMHSA, only 7.4 percent of individuals with co-occurring disorders receive integrated treatment for both their conditions. Over 55 percent receive no treatment whatsoever. 

The problem is, when one disorder is left unattended, the other cannot be fully tended to, inhibiting one’s chances at a full recovery. Because the symptoms of mental illness and symptoms of addiction often overlap, we hold it a priority to screen each young man at Turnbridge not only for the severity of their substance abuse problem, but also for co-occurring illnesses such as depression or anxiety. 

Every substance use disorder, every mental illness, has its own stretches and pulls on a person. Each person has his own addiction story to tell, and is at his own readiness to receive help. At Turnbridge, we believe that treatment should adhere to each individual’s needs and hopes for recovery. Our dual diagnosis treatment program is individualized and integrated, so that each young man can improve his mental health, under watchful care, and become drug and alcohol free once again. Among peers of his own age and gender, and 24/7 staff liaison, he will be provided with the necessary support, therapy, recreation, medication, and health services in treating his addiction and its underlying causes. At Turnbridge, your teen’s treatment plan will be completely his own. Call us today at 1-877-581-1793 to get started, or for more information on integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders.