Co-occurring Disorders at the Holidays

If you are like most people, you are just now winding down from the whirlwind of the holidays. Despite the excitement and joy that are expected at this time, many people feel stressed and overwhelmed during the holidays. If you suffer from a mental illness, such as depression, and have turned to alcohol or other substances in an effort to feel better, the holidays may be a disaster waiting to happen. We are surrounded by holiday parties, festivities, and celebrations at which alcohol and food flow freely. We are expected by family and peers to join in these revelries and we may feel judged and excluded if we steer away from some of these temptations.

Understandably, then, this season can be especially challenging for those with co-occurring disorders–mental illness and substance abuse. The push to feel better, despite feeling blue, may intensify the urge to use substances. This can backfire, however, as the substances interfere with the normal production and transmission of the neurotransmitters that regulate mood and anxiety. What may feel good now can intensify the underlying mood disorder, in turn intensifying the urge to use again? This cycle is always hard to stop; it is even more challenging this time of year.

Fortunately, medical professionals and therapists are increasingly sophisticated about the interplay between co-occurring disorders. If you seek help, it will be important to meet with clinicians who realize these disorders cannot be treated separately; they interact with each other and need to be treated as a unit. More information about co-occurring disorders (or dual diagnosis) is available on this website: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm. Help is out there.

Mary Short, LCMHC, MLADC
Clinician, Addictive Disorders Program