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Sharp Health News

Treating mental illness and addiction

July 23, 2018

Treating mental illness and addiction

Supporting a loved one in recovery from addiction or substance abuse can be challenging. When another mental health disorder is also a concern, your support becomes invaluable.

If a person has a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder and also has a problem with alcohol or drugs, they have what is called co-occurring disorders. A dual diagnosis must be made, and each illness requires its own treatment plan.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), close to 8 million people in the U.S. experience both a mental disorder and substance use disorder simultaneously. However, only 7.4% of this population receives the appropriate integrated type of care they need.

"Those with mental illness are two times as likely to develop a substance use disorder than the rest of the population," says Lindsay Kramer, a marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. "While causality isn't directly linked, there is a strong correlation, and one can worsen the other."

There are warning signs that your loved one may be suffering from more than one illness. These include the following:

  • Dependence on using substances to alleviate other symptoms of mental illness (for example, relying on alcohol to calm anxiety before going out with friends)
  • Developing mental illness symptoms from substance use, but continuing to use them
  • History of depression, anxiety, mania, etc., before substance use begins
  • Difficulty stopping substance use because of fear that doing so will worsen the symptoms of the mental disorder
  • Development of a vicious cycle of one leading to the other, or one being used to manage the other

Kramer says that treatment of a dual diagnosis requires an interdisciplinary team that can include psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, chemical dependency counselors and other professionals. However, the most important team member is the patient.

Patient participation in treatment is imperative, as treatment planning is individualized and must align with a patient's own goals. Support from loved ones, support groups and others in the community is also vital.

"People can recover from mental illness," Kramer says. "Having a treatment team and loved ones hold hope for someone when they have very little hope for themselves can make all the difference. This support during recovery can help them to take ownership of their treatment and work toward a life worth living."

Learn more about Sharp Mesa Vista's specialized treatment for people with co-existing drug and mental health disorders.

For the news media: To talk with Lindsay Kramer about dual recovery for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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