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Addictions and Co Occurring Disorders, The High Rate of Relapse

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 8th 2010

Addictions and Co Occurring Disorders, The High Rate of RelapseWhy is recovery from an addiction so very difficult for people? Despite all the efforts made by families and treatment procedures, too many people relapse. In fact, they go through many relapses and other people end up blaming the person out of frustration and anger. The fact it that addictions are extremely complicated and involve more than just ending the use of a substance. They do not occur in a vacuum.

Rather, they are the result of what is referred to as the Bio-Psycho-Social Spheres of influence.

The biological sphere includes brain chemistry, neurology, hormones other physiological factors.
The psychological sphere has to do with an individual's psychiatric diagnosis such as. Examples are the psychoses including schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorders and the personality, among others.

Finally, the is the social sphere. Among these are family environment, neighborhood, economy, family finances and many others.

If all of these influences are not treated, the likelyhood of relapse is quite high.

Today, addictions are characterized by the fact that people are using many substances, from alcohol to methamphetamine, prescription pain killers, cocaine, etc. It is important to stress the fact the list of addictions includes illnesses such as the eating disorders eating disorders.

However, there is little available in terms of treatment that is inclusive of all of these factors. The tendency of most treatment centers is to focus on one drug of addiction. Even if there is some psychotherapy, it tends to not include family treatment, leaving out a major factor in the social sphere that influences all types of behavior. This results in high rates of relapse.

"Kimberly Dennis, MD, a psychiatrist specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment is the Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. She recommends that those suffering from a co-occurring disorder receive specialized care for all of their disorders with a unified treatment approach. For people with dual diagnosis, this can be the first and most important step to a successful and life-long recovery."

According to Dr. Dennis, the success rate Timber Knolls has greatly increased since they started their integrated approach. She states that, "without looking at all aspects of a patient's health, relapses are far more common. The emotional strain put on patients and their families result in worsened feelings of shame, hopelessness and self-loathing, which only adds to the illnesses."

The fact that most treatment centers do not include this comprehensive method of treatment is probably due, in part, to the fact that it is expensive. Nevertheless, it is important that both families and patients be aware if the importance of treatment for all of these problems.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind the fact that people have a hard time giving up their addiction. This only partially due to the fact that brain chemistry has been affected by substances. It is often frightening for patients to end their addiction because they do not know what life will be like without it. Many patients become depressed during the recovery process because they are mourning the loss of a way of coping. It was a sick way of dealing with life but it was their way, making it hard to adopt a new way of life.

Despite all of these problems, it is possible for people to change their lives and live well adjusted and fulfilling lives.

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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