Should You Treat Substance Use Disorders Before Mental Health

Sep 17, 2020

Even though the relationship between substance use and mental health has been clearly established, a disconnect still exists from the perspective of people who see these conditions as separate and focus on one over the other. The results of attempts to get treatment for one and neglect the other are usually predictable as they commonly end in relapse. Today, let’s look at why these co-occurring disorders affect each other and why they’re best treated in an integrated program offering dual diagnosis care.

Treating a substance use disorder without treating a co-occurring mental health disorder reduces the effectiveness of any treatment program as the inability to manage mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety, and trauma, can lead a woman to turning to substance use to cope during especially difficult times. Although one disorder may be diagnosed first, the connection between the two disorders can be strong and risk factors for both can be similar, such as early childhood trauma and genetic predisposition. A recommended response for an SUD and a co-occurring mental health disorder in women is dual diagnosis treatment at an inpatient facility offering trauma-informed care.

Your substance use disorder appears more directly tied to consequences in your life.

When looking at what effects substance use has had on your life, you might see the signs in lost jobs, loss of financial stability, increased dependence on family, emerging health problems, change in personal relationships, legal issues, and other outcomes. These consequences that appear to be a result of your substance use can take more of your attention to address and reverse, leading you to respond with occasional attempts at treatment or inconsistent participation in a support group. Recognizing an SUD is playing a role in the self-destructive pattern of your life does not mean it’s the sole factor.

You weren’t aware you have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Mental health disorders in women can go undiagnosed for years, and without a diagnosis a woman may assume that the stress and anxiety she feels is typical. If she’s aware of the SUD and doesn’t realize how a mental health disorder, such as trauma, may be worsening her substance use, she won’t even think about seeking a diagnosis for her mental health. Left undiagnosed, this stress or anxiety can perpetuate her use of substances, adding to the physical health risks she’s already facing.

You received the diagnosis of an SUD first and assumed it caused a mental health disorder.

For women who received a diagnosis of a substance use disorder from a family doctor or a treatment program, drawing a conclusion that it led to stress or anxiety is ill-advised. A mental health concern could have preceded the SUD as the two tend to share many risk factors. For example, experiencing verbal, physical, or sexual abuse as a child can be a factor in both the appearance of PTSD later in life and the regular use of illegal substances, such as heroin or meth.

You have been to treatment programs but always found them unsuccessful. 

Going to multiple treatment programs and experiencing frequent relapses can make it appear as if a patient has somehow failed alone. This lack of success in attempting to begin and sustain a recovery period can stem from an inadequate diagnosis. If the focus of your past treatment has been solely on the substance use without diagnosing and addressing the co-occurring mental health disorder, a return to drugs and alcohol can follow incidents of extreme stress or anxiety as you look for ways to cope with overwhelming emotions.

Finding a program with dual diagnosis treatment can help you address both an SUD and co-occurring mental health disorder.

A multidisciplinary team working in an integrated fashion to restore you to wellness physically, mentally, and emotionally is a strongly recommended treatment resource. In a program offering dual diagnosis treatment, you can work on recovery goals with professionals and peers while receiving therapy and strategies through counseling to undo the damage caused by acts of self-harm, eating disorders, and other results of trauma. An emphasis on the importance of family support and continuing care also can contribute to helping you sustain your recovery once an inpatient program is complete.


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 primary 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: 561.841.1272.

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