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Common Co-Occurring Disorders Among Women

Jul 30, 2021

The impact of mental health issues on substance use makes it important for women to recognize how the two are connected. Women are affected by mental health conditions at higher rates than men, too. A report from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that close to 24 percent of women have experienced a diagnosable mental health condition in the past year. It’s a common co-occurring disorder worth exploring for women whose drug or drinking habits have already been problematic as well.

Common co-occurring disorders among women with substance use issues include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. These disorders may have started before drinking and drug use, even if they were diagnosed after an SUD. Working on sobriety without treating the mental health concern can leave patients at a higher risk for relapse during and after a program. Women with co-occurring disorders can benefit from dual diagnosis treatment where both disorders are addressed in an integrated way.

What is a co-occurring disorder?

A co-occurring disorder is one that appears alongside another disorder. Co-occurring disorders are usually a combination of a medical condition and a mental health concern. The presence of one may affect the other. One may be diagnosed first before the co-occurring disorder is diagnosed.

The timing of each diagnosis doesn’t always reveal which disorder appeared first. It only tells us when a patient became aware of each disorder. Some disorders may be more apparent than others and get attention from a person’s family members, friends, and coworkers.

What co-occurring disorders are common in women?

For women with substance use issues, common co-occurring mental health disorders can be depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. For some women, these disorders have gone undiagnosed for years. For others, they may be aware of their mental health condition and choose to ignore its impact on their health and well-being.

At an early age, a woman may have turned to alcohol or drugs to reduce the symptoms of depression. She may have started drinking alone to overcome the anxiety of socializing with peers. Some women may turn to drug use to lessen the intensity of painful memories of abuse.

Signs of post-traumatic stress appear in 8 out 10 women seeking treatment for substance use issues. The past experience may have involved physical or sexual abuse, often committed by someone they know. It doesn’t have to be recent either. Many women with co-occurring disorders may be traumatized by sexual abuse that took place decades ago during childhood.

Depression gets special attention as a co-occurring disorder, too. The high rate of it appearing in women with substance use disorders is noteworthy. Some estimates say nearly half the women with a drug or alcohol addiction are suffering from a form of depression that affects their ability to function every day.

Which disorder do you treat first?

Treating a mental health disorder first can be ineffective if the substance use continues unchecked. Substance use changes brain function and can reduce a patient’s ability to commit to the behavior changes needed to stay sober. The end result can be worsening the SUD and creating more intense mental health symptoms.

Treating the substance use disorder first isn’t an effective approach either. This step focuses on the chemical dependence on drugs or alcohol without addressing the underlying reasons that someone uses them. The end result can be a relapse when mental health symptoms appear again, and a patient turns to substances to cope with overwhelming feelings.

The recommended approach to substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders is dual diagnosis treatment. This kind of response looks at the patient as a whole person, simultaneously affected by both disorders. The treatment is integrated to a person’s specific needs to begin recovery and sustain it with strategies learned in individual and group therapy. They learn how addiction has affected them and what’s needed to maintain sobriety while they learn to manage the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress in healthy ways.

Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 866-952-5532.

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