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Alcoholism and Comorbid Disorders

Alcoholism and Comorbid Disorders. Alcohol detox is something that should always be monitored by professionals. There are many reasons for this, the primary being that alcohol is one of the few substances that can pose life-threatening complications during withdrawal. Another reason is that the existence of other co-occurring disorders can make an unmonitored detox process even more dangerous. Although alcohol detox and co-occurring disorders must be taken seriously, the good news is that when taken seriously and performed properly, a person with co-occurring disorders can achieve a smooth and successful detox.

How Common Is Alcohol Addiction and Mental Health Comorbidities?

Not only is alcohol use disorder (AUD) the most prevalent substance use disorder (SUD) both in the U.S. and internationally, but it is also the most common addiction to exist with other issues of mental illness (also known as comorbidities). Additionally, alcohol addiction has high co-occurrences with many types of mental health disorders.

Alcohol addiction does not discriminate when it comes to mental illness. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “The prevalence of AUD among persons treated for anxiety disorders is in the range of 20% to 40%… Among people with major depressive disorder, the co-occurrence of AUD ranges from 27% to 40%… Between 30% and 60% of people seeking treatment for AUD have co-occurring PTSD,” and “Among people in treatment for schizophrenia, the current prevalence of AUD is approximately 11% and the lifetime prevalence is approximately 21%.” The list goes on and on.

Understanding Alcohol Detox and Co-Occurring Disorders

Alcoholism and Comorbid Disorders

The important thing to remember about co-occurring disorders and alcohol detox is that many times, the individual is unaware that they are struggling with other issues when they initially reach out for help. Now, this is not their fault. It is not uncommon for active addiction to shroud the existence of other disorders by remaining primary when it comes to detectable symptoms. 

Also, many symptoms of AUD overlap with symptoms of other mental illnesses. For example, someone struggling with alcohol addiction may not know that they also have an anxiety disorder. This is because anxiety can be a symptom of both alcohol abuse as well as alcohol withdrawal.

The good news is that a professional detox specialist will often be able to detect other issues of mental health during the detox process or at least be in the proximity of mental health professionals who can make a competent diagnosis. When this diagnosis happens, the detox process can go much smoother and be significantly more successful.

How to Treat Co-Occurring Disorders During Alcohol Detox

Alcoholism and Comorbid Disorders

Treating co-occurring disorders during alcohol detox can be complex. After all, not all disorders are treated the same out of detox, so why would they be during the detoxification process?

Again, the key is professional oversight. Addiction specialists and medical professionals will be able to determine what is needed for treating these mental health comorbidities. Even then, ultimately, the main way that these other issues can be treated in detox is with medication.

Most people are not in a healthy state of mind to take on any treatments other than the detox treatment that is going on at the moment. Thus, while some types of therapy will eventually be recommended to treat both mental illness and addiction, these treatment modalities should be utilized following detox to enhance their effectiveness.

The main goal of alcohol detox is to get the substance and the residuals of the substance out of the system so the work of recovery can begin. A co-occurring disorder can interrupt that process. This is why reducing or eliminating the symptoms of that disorder during detox is so important. Detox is a focused process, and if medication can help maintain that focus, then that is what is required. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the medication will continue after detox. That should be left up to the recovery specialists.

Alcohol Detox and Co-Occurring Disorders: What Happens Next?

After detox, the real work begins. The fog has somewhat lifted and the negative physical effects should have somewhat dissipated. Then comes the time to work on the underlying emotional issues that often exist with alcohol addiction. If comorbidities exist, then these emotional issues are almost sure to be related to them as well. 

After detox is most likely when therapy will become part of the plan. With comorbidities of mental illness and addiction, the key is to treat them in tandem. Most psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and humanistic therapy can help dual or multi-diagnosed individuals. Also, group therapy can be highly effective, especially in treating addiction issues via the shared experiences of others in recovery.