Taming Two Dragons: Co-Occurring Disorders

Both dragons must be tamed and dealt with, as they are distinct from each other, and yet interact with each other in a way that is negatively reinforcing. Diagnosis of co-occurring disorders is sometimes a bit trickier than normal diagnosis. This is because substance use disorders also generate psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and psychosis, so it can be hard for a practitioner who doesn’t know your full history to know what she’s looking at.

The use of a substance may also mask the presence of a symptom that would otherwise be visible. For example, many women with anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have been using alcohol for its anxiolytic, or sedative, effects, to the point where the underlying constant state of anxiety may be hidden from their awareness.

The typical ups and downs of bipolar disorder, for example, can also resemble the highs and lows of stimulant addiction. In other words, people can develop symptoms of addiction and mental illness that mimic each other. Due to the similarity of the diagnostic characteristics for various mental conditions, individuals are either left untreated or misdiagnosed.

Symptoms can vary widely among people who are diagnosed with serious mental illness, which can sometimes make receiving an accurate diagnosis difficult. Dual diagnosis treatment and care options will vary and depend on each person’s experiences and specific needs. It’s important to note that what works for one individual may not work for another.

At Villa Kali Ma, our rehab center in San Diego County, California, takes a cautious, supportive approach to treating co-occurring substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health. We make sure we’re understanding what exactly is plaguing you before we dive into helping you overcome it.

For a woman who comes to realize and accept that she has two things going on at once, it is generally recommended that she seek integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, from the same medical team. It doesn’t usually work to get treatment for one and then the other, because each one of the disorders interferes with progress in treatment of the other.

What are Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are a term for what used to be known as dual diagnosis. Generally speaking, it means that a person is struggling with two distinct and recognizable disorders, each of which would normally be treated on their own. But for those who have and struggle with both, integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders is often the most effective.

One of the two diagnoses is a substance use disorder (SUD) such as alcoholism or opioid addiction, and the second is a mental health disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder.

patient and therapist during therapy

Negative interactions between the two disorders occur because each triggers the other. Psychiatric symptoms, for example, being depressed, can cause a woman to use. Vice versa, relapsing by using substances again due to having symptoms of depression or other mental illness, can also trigger a woman’s depression.

Having a Co-Occurring Disorder is a Double-Edged Sword

For example, it’s normal to experience a phase of feeling down when in withdrawal from substances. All individuals in substance abuse treatment will likely feel a bit discouraged or down as they face the task of their recovery. During withdrawal, addiction medicine is provided to provide effective treatment.

For a woman who has major depression, to begin with, withdrawal-induced depression can easily compound into a walloping major depressive episode complete with suicidal feelings. In turn, it is a vicious cycle. There is an appropriate screening tool in place to provide a comprehensive approach for our patients.

Likewise, the same woman may be making progress in her substance abuse treatment, doing well in her recovery, when she suddenly experiences an episode of her major depression. The profound pain of her mental illness can easily trick her brain into returning to using drugs or alcohol for relief. Having a co-occurring disorder is a double-edged sword.

Integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders can each a person cope and manage their triggers healthily and prevent the high probability of relapse that can occur during early recovery or after completing treatment.

Awareness of the Two Major Dragons That Need Taming

A woman with co-occurring disorders will need to become deeply aware of two major dragons that she needs to tame, dragons that sometimes team up together and attack her from different sides at once. We treat co-occurring disorders from a place of resilience, encouragement, and empowerment. Women can conquer drug abuse and mental health issues one step at a time.

A big part of taming dragons is getting a fairly good handle on what exactly their qualities are. Maybe one dragon has wings and poison venom, and another breathes fire and has a spiky tail. When teamed up together, you’re facing a duo that flies, breathes fire, poisons you, and hits you with a spiky tail.

It is important to acknowledge that a woman who has made it this far in life with a co-occurring disorder has a very strong soul and spirit. She has lived with two dragons where most of us have barely managed to handle just being alive and handling “normal life”. Her very existence is an accomplishment. Women must always remember that their mental health condition and other drug use disorders do not define them.

She must call on that strong spirit of resilience inside her to become gritty and street-smart about what she’s facing. She has to lose any lingering naïveté about the full cunning and baffling power of her substance addiction dragon, and at the same time understand the vagaries and tricks of her mental illness dragon. When a woman has a mental health issue and substance abuse disorder, there is a broader range of challenges going on there.

How Can a Woman Recover From Co-Occurring Disorders?

woman recovered from co-occurring disorderA big part of recovering, therefore, is what’s called “psycho-education,” or getting an advanced degree like her dragons. She must learn all about how each disorder behaves, mastering knowledge of the symptoms, triggers and signs of its return, warning signs of relapse, and what cures exist. She must learn to call out the voices of each disease – the addict that lies to her in one way, and the disorder that lies to her in another. More research is constantly done at our treatment center such as data collection to improve access to healing.

Some common dragon pairings make sense when you look at how they interact.  Anxiety disorders tend to go with addiction to anxiolytics, such as panic disorder with alcoholism. Bipolar disorder tends to team up with polysubstance abuse, which makes sense because the opposite nodes of the bipolar psychiatric experience will push a woman to self-medicate with different substances, depending on whether she is in “up” or “down” mode.

Major depression hooks up with stimulants, such as cocaine. Women with schizophrenia are often at high risk for polysubstance abuse as well, which makes sense when you consider the complexity of their symptoms. Integrated dual diagnosis treatment is needed to properly treat these complex disorders.

In each of these scenarios, you can see how the two dragons work together to pull a woman down. The substance of choice on the one hand temporarily alleviates the pain of the co-occurring mental health symptoms. Cocaine creates high energy, euphoric, and speedy feelings that override the specific slow, low pain of depression.

On the other hand, the backlash – the payback of that drug – is identical in feeling to the original symptom. For anyone using cocaine, whether or not they have depression, to begin with, depression is a withdrawal symptom. Likewise, if you didn’t know what anxiety was yet, going through withdrawal from alcohol will make it abundantly clear what that is. One disorder such as mental health can influence certain substances in a woman’s body leading to the need for intervention.

You can see here that this is quite a consciousness trap. Women are plagued with certain symptoms that they cannot find relief from. In search of relief, they turn to substances. The substance helps in the short term, then heaps more of their symptoms on them.

To boot, the substance isn’t a reliable solution due to tolerance – over time, the woman’s brain adapts to the substance and no longer receives any benefit, but has nevertheless become dependent on it simply not to go into painful withdrawal. Hence, needing an addiction treatment program to start working through it.

Why is a Woman With a Co-Occurring Disorder Called to Heroism?

A woman with a co-occurring disorder is called to heroism on two fronts – she is a powerful being who will need to become a savvy and skilled warrior for her recovery. As she understands each mental illness and the way they interact with each other negatively, she becomes extremely tough, a force to be reckoned with. It is helpful to select one center or facility that provides integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, with the same therapists and same healing milieu as a part of their treatment plan. That way she can form bonds of trust with staff and peers who accept and understand the entire picture of her experience.

It is vitally important to be able to speak freely about the truth of her psychiatric symptoms during the psychiatric services, be they hearing voices, urges to kill herself, or terrible onslaughts of panic attacks. It is helpful to be in an environment where the dual nature of her dragons is understood, and where there is extra compassion and support for the double task that she is up against. She will need to have the support of qualified staff and loving peers to help her develop coping skills, strategies, and mottos, and make personal meaning of her challenges and story of heroic recovery from them.

How to Overcome Dealing With Co-occurring Disorders as a Woman?

A lot of dealing with co-occurring disorders is learning daily actions that can be used to soothe oneself from any kind of stress, pain, urge, or trigger from drug abuse or a mental health condition. Another piece is developing and lovingly sticking to a structure that helps a woman feel safe and contained in a space that protects her from the hurricane winds of her illnesses when they arise. A third piece is being around a community of people who completely get it, who accept her with her particular soul challenges that she has without stigmatizing or judging her, who understand and forgive her temporary setbacks and failings as she learns the art of dragon taming.

Last but not least, a woman with co-occurring disorders will most likely benefit from some way of understanding her experience through a spiritual or existential outlook, whether this is relying on her God source, however, she comes to know that source, or whether she finds other words and ways to know a power that is bigger and stronger than her double-headed dragon, who can intervene, intercede, and aid her when she is at her weakest.

Villa Kali Ma Offers Effective Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders in Women in San Diego County

co-occurring disorders integrated treatmentA Villa Kali Ma in San Diego County, we follow a daily structure for healthy living that entrains a woman to habits that support recovery from co-occurring disorders. Our integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders also provides a team that understands a woman’s experiences and teaches coping skills our clients can use to manage their dual diagnoses.

As part of our continuing care plan, we provide integrated treatment for women with mental health and substance use disorders including addiction therapy services such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational interviewing.

We understand there is a sense of cultural sensitivity and women struggling with co-occurring disorders are seeking safety, not just mental health services. If you need integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, we excel at figuring out the root of the problem through holistic practices and collaborate with our clients to design a treatment plan that will address their specific challenges.

Our evidence-based practices offer skills training as a part of a treatment option and strive not to leave you in the same setting or mindset you were in before. At Villa Kali Ma in San Diego County, CA, you’re not alone! Through coordinated care and recovery, our specialists will help you or a loved one get life back on track, and provide the tools to manage one’s challenges successfully. Contact us today!

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