alcoholism and psychiatric disorders

Alcoholism that exists with a comorbid mood disturbance or mental health disorder is an extremely common occurrence, although, unfortunately, in many cases these dual disorders are not fully acknowledged and treated in the clinical setting. But treating only alcoholism without addressing a co-existing mental health disorder will only fail in the long run, as the features of the mental illness will simply continue to fuel alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism and psychiatric disorders are called a dual diagnosis. For a successful treatment outcome to occur, both disorders must be treated simultaneously. This involves seeking out rehab programs that specialize in treating a dual diagnosis for the most promising recovery result, as these programs will have a psychiatric team on staff and will tailor programming to align with the full spectrum of each individual patients’ needs.

The Connection Between Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders

According to an overview on the topic published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, co-occurring alcoholism and psychiatric disorders is very prevalent. The statistics they provide show the rate that individuals with alcohol dependence present with such mental health disorders:

  • 31.1% have a mood disorder (includes bipolar disorder)
  • 27.9% have major depressive disorder
  • 52.2% have an anxiety disorder (includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders)
  • 7.7% have PTSD

A related article from the same source explains that, because heavy alcohol abuse directly impacts brain function and alters the neurotransmitters, it is common for individuals to develop a mental health disorder. However, the article also explains that the mood disorder, or other mental health disorder, especially depression, often predates the alcohol addiction. In these cases, the unpleasant symptoms associated with depression lead the individual to access alcohol as a means of self-medicating, which can then become alcohol dependency.

Types of Mental Health Disorders that Often Co-Occur With Alcoholism

There are certain mental health disorders that commonly co-exist with an alcohol use disorder. These include:

  • Depression. Major depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and despair, fatigue, isolation from family and friends, changes in eating and sleeping habits, loss of interest in hobbies or activities once important, and thoughts of suicide.
  • Anxiety. Anxiety has many different sub-types, but in general they feature excessive worry, exaggerated response to a stressor or situation, isolating behaviors, and irritability.
  • PTSD. PTSD is characterized by lingering psychological distress long after the traumatic event occurred. Symptoms may include recurrent nightmares or memories of the event, avoiding any triggers or reminders of the trauma, insomnia, anxiety, isolating behaviors, and emotional detachment.
  • Mood Disorders. Bipolar disorder features extreme moodiness characterized by severe manic episodes that alternates with depressive episodes. Different types of bipolar disorder feature one type of mood dominating, or differing intensities of the moods.

Suicide Rates Among Alcoholics

One notable connection present among individuals with co-occurring alcoholism and depression is the high risk of suicide. The suicide rate among alcoholics is an astounding 5,080 times that of the general population, according to an article entitled “Alcohol and Suicide” by R.E. Kendall. The author posits that when a retrospective study of suicides is conducted, a high proportion of individuals were alcoholic, often taking their lives in late stage alcoholism and often correlating with other risk factors, such as divorce, a history of suicide attempts, and aging.

Alcoholism often follows a predictable trajectory, with compounding losses only making depression worse. These might include loss of a job or loss of a relationship or marriage, leading the alcoholic to become increasingly isolated. These effects can dramatically increase the risk of suicide among alcoholics with co-occurring depression.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Because alcoholism is a chronic, progressing, relapsing disease, it is imperative for the individual suffering from this disease to get professional help. The risks are only exacerbated when there is a dual diagnosis. In a dual diagnosis treatment program, the individual will receive support and treatment to help them overcome the complex disorder.

Treatment for a dual diagnosis will involve individual psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or any other appropriate evidence-based therapy, medication management to treat the mental health disorder, 12-step programming and participation, mindfulness training and other experiential activities, and education about the alcoholism and acquiring new coping skills and recovery tools.

Phoenix Rising Addiction Center Provides Outpatient Rehab for Alcoholism

Phoenix Rising is a comprehensive outpatient rehab for treating individuals with alcohol use disorder in Orange County. The term “comprehensive” pertains to the multi-dimensional integrated approach that Phoenix Rising uses to effectively help individuals rehabilitate all aspects of their lives. This includes the use of evidence-based psychotherapy, group therapy, education about addiction, 12-step programming and participation in recovery community, holistic therapies, medication management for the alcoholism and psychiatric disorders, and sober living housing availability. Phoenix Rising also offers evening programming for individuals who work during the day. For more information about the program, please contact Phoenix Rising today at (877) 299-5694.

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