SUDs and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

June 18, 2019

Tully Hill treats and cares for patients with substance use disorders (SUDs). More often than not, our patients also present with one or more mental health disorders, primarily some degree of depression and/or anxiety. When an SUD and a mental health disorder occur in the same person (sometimes at the same time, sometimes one after the other), we identify this patient as having co-occurring disorders.

Co-occurring disorders, also known as comorbidities, affect people from all walks of life and all age groups. Recurrent use of alcohol and other drugs often causes clinically significant impairment, be it failure to meet school, work, or home responsibilities, serious health problems, outright disability, or any combination of such consequences. Likewise, mental health disorders may equally cause functional impairment that substantially interferes with and limits most life activities.

Establishing which disorder caused the other or which disorder came first or why can be difficult. Ongoing research tells us that there are common risk factors that can influence each disorder’s development. They include certain genes that are inherited and put whoever inherits them at risk of developing the disorders; environmental factors – stress, trauma – that can create changes in inherited genes and contribute to the origin and onset of such disorders; and there is strong evidence now that substance use and addiction are involved in the development of mental illness, given how substance use changes one’s brain.

When patients with co-occurring disorders present to us for treatment and care of their SUD, we have our colleagues in the mental health field to thank for the work they do evaluating and identifying mental health disorders. Often with such patients, their mental health disorder has been identified and confirmed and we are made aware of it because of these professionals’ effective collaboration with us.

Tully Hill’s staff is fully qualified to treat and care for patients who present for SUD treatment and who also have a co-occurring disorder, specifically depression and anxiety. Most of our clinical staff are what is called IMHATT (Integrated Mental Health/Addictions Treatment Training)-certified, meaning they are trained to identify and assess co-occurring disorders. Any such confirmed mental health disorder is incorporated into the patient’s treatment plan and addressed throughout that patient’s stay, using such tools as initial and ongoing mental health assessments when indicated, effective behavioral therapies (e.g., CBT or Cognitive behavioral therapy) that help change harmful behaviors and beliefs, and collaborating with aftercare entities equipped to continue addressing the co-occurring disorders to sustain and advance a patient’s recovery from both.

As these disorders continue to be identified and established in patients, and as we learn more about their cause(s), we realize that only a comprehensive approach combining proven, effective treatment and care protocols in collaboration with others will succeed in meeting the many challenges co-occurring disorders pose.


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