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Understanding the Complexity of Addiction: The Interplay of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Recovery Centers of America

Authored by Recovery Centers of America

For many years, substance abuse was stigmatized, reprehended, and was primarily treated through short-term inpatient rehab and 12-step programs. Our understanding of substance abuse, its causes, and the best ways to treat it are rapidly expanding. Addiction is a disease that permeates all areas of our patient’s life and requires a complex approach to treat it.

One of the most important things we now recognize is the interplay of substance abuse and mental illness. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 7.9 million people in the US in 2014 were suffering from co-occurring disorders. People who have mental disorders are more likely to develop substance abuse problems–resulting in co-occurring disorders.

At our substance abuse treatment centers, it can be very difficult to diagnose the disorder correctly. Sometimes, there are multiple mental health issues in addition to the substance abuse disorder. It is critical that these types of patients receive comprehensive, integrated care in which the patients are able to receive treatment for substance abuse and mental illness simultaneously. Because the disorders are connected, it can be nearly impossible to treat one without the other.

Treatment for Co-occurring Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Disorders

In order for patients to achieve full recovery, it’s essential to offer them the tools necessary to maintain full well-being. If the patient treats one are while neglecting another, that area is likely to trigger a relapse down the road. Here are four components of our substance abuse treatment programs that are necessary to help patients with co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness disorders make full recoveries:

Integrated Treatment

It is essential that patients receive simultaneous treatment for their mental illness as well as their substance abuse problems. These disorders must be understood as intertwined and interdependent–they cannot be treated as independent from each other.

Address Trauma

Many patients struggling with mental disorders have experienced traumas that contribute to their disorders. Addressing the trauma’s role in mental disorder is crucial to treating both the mental disorder and the substance abuse. Many patients are unable to cope with their substance abuse disorder until they address the underlying trauma.  Helping patients process and cope with the traumatic experience provides for a smoother recovery process.

Emphasize Group Therapy

Group therapy has been particularly effective in helping patients with mental disorders. Mental illnesses tend to make patients feel isolated and alone. Providing a safe place to work through problems and establish trust is crucial. Patients who participate in group therapy are also more likely to pursue after-care outside of rehab which has proven to be extremely important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle post treatment.

Medication Management

Ensuring that patients are receiving the proper types and doses of medication is essential in aiding recovery. Taking the proper medication for a mental illness can be a huge step in treatment, but the combination of the wrong medication with substance abuse and mental illness can be extremely harmful to our patient.

Here at Recovery Centers of America, we aim to offer our patients a balanced, comprehensive treatment that addresses the many facets of substance abuse and mental illness. Our full continuum of care of our substance abuse treatment programs offer tools and ongoing support to make the difference between short-term abstinence and a sustainable recovery. To learn more about our treatment plans and our integrated approach to treating both substance abuse and mental health, call 1-800-RECOVERY.

Substance Abuse and Mental Illness | Lighthouse

Authored by

Recovery Centers of America

Recovery Centers of America



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