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Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

August 20, 2019
Kevin Douglas Portrait

By Kevin Douglas, Director of Counseling & Shelter Services

About 70% of the men admitted to St. Christopher’s Inn each year have dual diagnoses of both Substance Use Disorder and at least one other mental health challenge such as generalized anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

To provide the best opportunity for recovery, the Counseling Department at St. Christopher’s Inn has adopted a clinical intervention model, Focus on Integrated Treatment (FIT), which has a strong emphasis on co-occurring disorders. Our goal is to strengthen our clinical service delivery, while also bringing awareness to the prevalence of mental health pathology within addiction treatment.

Co-occurring disorders can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of substance abuse or addiction can mask symptoms of mental illness, and vice versa. People with mental health disorders frequently do not address their substance abuse because they do not believe it is relevant to their problems. However, some typical patterns do emerge among those suffering with co-occurring disorders.

There is often a worsening of mental health symptoms even while receiving treatment. Those diagnosed with mental health disorders often self-medicate with substances to feel better. People who are anxious may want something to make them feel relaxed or calm; individuals who are depressed may want something to make them feel more animated; people who are fearful of others may want something to make them feel less inhibited; and people who are in psychological pain may want something to make them feel numb.

Using alcohol or other drugs not only fails to address the mental health disorder, but also prevents a person from developing effective coping skills, having satisfying relationships, and feeling comfortable with themselves. In addition, alcohol interferes with medications prescribed for mental health disorders. In short, drug and alcohol use make mental health disorders worse.

In the past, mental health disorders and addiction problems were often treated separately. We now know that co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders impact one another and must be treated together. Treating just one disorder will not cause the other to automatically improve. Separate, parallel care for the disorders does not result in one, effective treatment plan. To be effective, both disorders must be treated at the same time, in the same place, by the same treatment team. This is called integrated care.

The St. Christopher’s Inn Counseling department uses integrated clinical interventions for improved outcomes with the Brothers Christopher, while continuing to educate all affiliates of St. Christopher’s Inn about the importance of integrated care.

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