Any chronic or long-lasting medical condition is challenging, no matter your financial situation. When you add in a secondary condition, it increases the challenge exponentially.
Chronic disease requires long-term management strategies to control the symptoms. Concurrent disorders can make it more difficult to get a diagnosis and introduce health complications due to the treatment of one of the illnesses, and disease interactions can make the symptoms of both conditions worse.
At FHE Health, we help patients control the symptoms of any co-occurring conditions. Depression and anxiety often present together, for example, and untreated ADHD can lead to anxiety disorders. When a patient has multiple mental health conditions, there may be preexisting conditions that impact the diagnosis and treatment. Our skilled mental health professionals work with a multidisciplinary team to combat the physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms of mental illness.
Defining Comorbidity and Its Prevalence in Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Comorbidity is when a patient has more than one medical condition at the same time. In mental health, that could refer to an autistic person who also has ADHD. Many people with schizophrenia also suffer from one of several anxiety disorders, PTSD or panic disorder.
Substance abuse increases the likelihood of comorbidity. Addiction is often either the result of an untreated mental health condition or a cause. It’s a major risk factor for the development of depression and anxiety and can lead to health complications in the long term. When addiction is one of the co-occurring conditions affecting a patient, treating it becomes a priority to better understand any additional mental health conditions that may be masked by the symptoms of addiction.
Understanding the Complex Interactions Between Comorbid Disorders and Symptoms
When a patient has co-occurring medical conditions, it can mean two or more mental conditions, physical conditions or a combination of both. Studies show that prolonged substance abuse can lead to a variety of movement disorders. Tremors are a common physical issue that results from abusing amphetamines, alcohol or MDMA. Patients can develop parkinsonism from overuse of methcathinone or opioids. These movement disorders may be intermittent, temporary or permanent.
Comorbidities and COVID-19 have increased the awareness of how one disease can impact the symptoms and long-term effects of another. While mental illness isn’t a risk factor in contracting COVID-19, those with a preexisting mental health diagnosis are more likely to become hospitalized and suffer severe illness or death, according to information collected by the World Health Organization.
Examining the Challenges and Risks Associated with Comorbid Disorders
For mental health professionals, some co-occurring conditions present significant treatment challenges. Substance use disorder is commonly found side by side with PTSD, but clinical treatment is often complicated by competing patient needs.
Many clinicians avoid the use of exposure-based therapies, the gold standard in PTSD treatment, in an attempt to reduce the risk of relapse. Often, treating one disorder can complicate the treatment of another. Antidepressants that are very successful at reducing the symptoms of depression may worsen anxiety.
Clinicians working with patients who have multiple mental health disorders must balance risks and attempt to treat the most serious and dangerous conditions first. Unfortunately, having multiple diseases doesn’t mean both diseases present and follow along known progressions.
When two or more conditions are present, it means every illness has worse symptoms and severity, more complications and reduced treatment efficacy. Essentially, having depression and anxiety could mean patients develop treatment-resistant depression and anxiety that become worse faster than is typical.
Identifying Common Comorbid Medical Conditions and Their Impact on Treatment and Recovery
Comorbid medical conditions can present in a number of well-known combinations:
- Depression can affect as many as 60% of patients diagnosed with anxiety.
- One anxiety disorder may introduce another.
- Somewhere between 55% and 98% of those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa also have another Axis 1 disorder, such as mood, sleep and anxiety disorders or schizophrenia.
- Bulimia has a high occurrence of co-occurring conditions.
- As many as 42% of patients with a mood or anxiety disorder may also struggle with substance use disorder.
The combination of SUD with other co-occurring disorders has long been established. For some, the use of illegal drugs or the misuse of prescription medications may be an attempt to self-medicate for a mental health issue. Nearly half of all schizophrenic patients will at some point abuse drugs or alcohol, which is substantially higher than the 16% of the general population who do so.
In instances where a patient has more than one medical condition, it’s important to treat both simultaneously. With substance abuse, the first step may be detox, but during the recovery period after mitigating the immediate symptoms of withdrawal, a patient needs support for both illnesses. Failure to treat the underlying cause of SUD can lead to more rapid relapse.
Strategies for Managing Comorbid Disorders
Treating two illnesses as separate issues doesn’t deliver the long-term success rates found when clinicians use integrated treatment and support for both illnesses. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often the first step in treating patients with multiple diseases. CBT can help improve interpersonal and coping skills and takes a supportive approach to building motivation and functional recovery.
Patients with concurrent disorders may have lower success rates and drop out of treatment more frequently than those with a single mental illness. Comprehensive screening and support systems help build treatment programs that can more effectively keep patients engaged. When substance use disorder is one of the co-occurring disorders receiving treatment, the duration of stay in a recovery program is critical to long-term sobriety.
Collaborative care is a necessity to help those overcoming SUD along with other mental illnesses. Often, patients need support to address ancillary issues like homelessness, physical health problems, lack of vocational skills, legal trouble and other issues that may crop up during a high-risk lifestyle while addicted to drugs or alcohol.
At FHE Health, we work with a multidisciplinary team to create customized treatment plans tailored for complex disease interactions. Our integrated approach uses evidence-based treatments shown to deliver the best outcomes for those with co-occurring conditions, including substance abuse treatment. Our AHCA-certified rehab center offers additional comprehensive services for people without a diagnosis, including those recovering from addiction and those seeking treatment without a history of SUD. Contact us today to get started on your recovery journey.