For Mental Wellness, Integrate Care

A personalized path to recovery allows people to get help for more than one issue, which can be critical to sustaining recovery.

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As substance use disorder is understood as a mental health issue, which may intersect with other disorders, we may improve access to care that creates better opportunities for sustained recovery.

Britney McCradyMany healthcare providers and substance use treatment facilities treat substance use disorder as an isolated issue. However, as clinical manager Brittany McCrady, MSW points out in her recent op-ed, “substance use and mental health issues are intertwined.”

A personalized path to recovery allows people to get help for more than one issue, which can be critical to sustaining recovery.

Substance use disorder often co-occurs with other mental health issues and the entire spectrum can be difficult to diagnose and treat. The symptoms or behaviors associated with substance use disorder can “mask” other mental health symptoms. For example, anxiety disorder might be hard to identify in a person who has an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is a depressant, so long time, significant use of it may make the person seem depressed when in reality they have issues with anxiety. When the person’s alcohol use is alleviated through treatment and abstinence, the “depression” will go away, and the symptoms of anxiety will present themselves. A mental health issue can go undiagnosed for years, sometimes appearing after a significant time in recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that 7.9 million people had both a mental health and substance use disorder in 2014. That’s a huge population of people, yet treatment often focuses on just one or the other. Treatment for co-occurring disorders needs to be more prevalent, if not the standard, said McCrady.

“A fully integrated medical, mental health, and substance use treatment model provides an individual with adequate resources and staff to screen, diagnosis and treat both mental health and substance use disorders,” she said. Looking at the whole person can help individuals find the right path to a personalized, integrated, recovery-oriented approach.

McCrady said that better, integrated care means that providers need to take a less narrow perspective and look for issues outside of substance use disorder. “This means treatment providers must meet individuals where they are and develop goals that are important to their recovery. Integrated care can stabilize the symptoms of co-occurring disorders, build up the individual’s recovery supports, and provide a foundation for lasting recovery.”

According to RAND Health, research supports that integrated care is the most effective treatment for individuals with co-occurring disorders. As substance use disorder is understood as a mental health issue, which may intersect with other disorders, we may improve access to care that creates better opportunities for sustained recovery.

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