Are Mental Disorders Treated Before or After Addiction Treatment?

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Calendar icon Last Updated: 04/5/2019
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Who Answers?

Co-occurring mental disorders and addictions must be treated at the same time. This is because, by the nature of comorbid disorders, there is a strong likelihood that one of these led to the other or that they are both increasing the severity of one another. If these disorders are not treated together, the patient is much less likely to recover from either and, instead, more likely to experience a relapse of both addictive behavior and the symptoms of their mental disorder(s).

Must Treatment Be This Way?

Yes. A person’s treatment regimen may focus on certain issues at certain times, but in general, the individual must be treated for both issues at the same time. Co-occurring disorders are very common in addicted patients, and this is also why nearly every individual who experiences addiction is also tested for mood and mental disorders. According to the National Drug Strategy, “Failure to detect all issues may contribute to poor treatment retention and outcomes,” so it is much better for doctors to search out these issues and begin treating them right away than to leave them until another time in recovery.

How Are Mental Disorders Treated Simultaneously with Addiction?

As stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Several behavioral therapies have shown promise for treating comorbid conditions.” Because behavioral therapies are often beneficial during addiction rehab (both substance and behavioral), and because these therapies are sometimes used to treat mood and other mental disorders, they can easily be tailored to a certain individual’s situation to treat all psychological issues at once. One of the most commonly used therapies for comorbidity is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which allows individuals to:

  • Reevaluate their behavior and feelings toward drug abuse, other people, and the important things in their life
  • Consider possible scenarios that could lead to drug abuse or other problems in the future and plan ways to better cope with these scenarios
  • Explore the positive and negative consequences of continued drug abuse
  • Recognize cravings and triggers for each disorder in order to avoid these issues in the future as much as possible
  • Learn new ways to cope with issues in one’s life instead of turning to drug abuse as a coping mechanism

In addition, CBT and other behavioral therapies can be combined in many cases with one or more medications that can help treat an individual’s addiction and mental disorder(s). However, “more research is needed… to better understand how these medications work, particularly when combined in patients with comorbidities.”

Treating Co-occurring Addiction and Mental Disorders

A person should always receive treatment for both issues at the same time so they can avoid one detracting from the progress they have made with the other. Comorbid disorders like these nearly always interact with one another, and the best way to keep a person healthy and strong in their recovery is to treat both simultaneously.