Somatic symptom disorder is a very specific and potentially problematic disorder. This disorder typically causes a person to focus excessively on physical symptoms. These can vary greatly and can cause intense worry, distress, and problems for the individual.
With this disorder, a person may or may not be diagnosed with a medical condition that is to blame for the symptoms. However, with this in mind, the person’s reaction and fixation to the medically unexplained symptoms is not considered normal. Somatic symptom disorder and substance abuse is a dangerous mix since addiction may worsen that type of disorder.
On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal but many issues and consequences can arise over time. Somatization disorder should be taken seriously and diagnosed with care. A person’s excessive distress and feelings can lead to worse situations like suicide attempts and substance abuse. It’s important to take a look at the signs and symptoms related to somatic symptoms disorder and act accordingly.
At Behavioral Health Centers, we’re ready to help you or a loved one improve their situation and mental state. We understand how serious somatic symptom disorder can be (especially when it is intertwined with substance abuse). If you or a loved one is struggling with somatic symptom disorder and substance abuse, we’re ready to help you today at Behavioral Health Centers.
For your treatment options, you can reach us here: 772-774-3872.
What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?
Somatic symptom disorder is the feeling that something is wrong with you because of certain symptoms. These particular symptoms may be caused by medical conditions and at certain times they may not. The symptoms can vary greatly in severity and are usually different on a case by case basis. If someone has somatic symptom disorder, they do not act normally about their symptoms.
A person may automatically think the worst about the symptoms they are feeling. They may consistently and frequently seek medical attention. They may continue looking for an explanation even if the possibility of a serious condition has already been excluded. Typically, these symptoms and health concerns become the center point of a person’s life. It can be hard for the person to function and focus, this can eventually lead to disability and other related disorders.
Those dealing with somatic symptom disorder will experience intense emotional and physical stress. This is where treatment may be able to help a person cope with their symptoms. This can affect a person’s mental state and entire livelihood if left untreated.
The Signs and Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder
There are certain behaviors and tendencies that can indicate possible somatic symptom disorder. Before going into these signs, it’s important to speak on the symptoms of the disorder. The symptoms someone may be experiencing may vary and could possibly be a sign of an underlying health condition. Symptoms of somatic symptom disorder:
- Can be directly related to a medical condition (heart disease, cancer, etc.) or may be unrelated to any medical cause (that can be identified).
- May be singular, multiple, or varying.
- May include specific sensations, which can include shortness of breath, general symptoms (fatigue, weakness, etc.), or pain.
- Can range anywhere from mild to moderate to severe.
Pain is usually the most common symptom in most cases. However, regardless of the symptoms, a person dealing with somatic symptom disorder will have continuous feelings and behaviors due to these symptoms. These can make it hard to function and can actually lead to disabilities if left untreated. The biggest indicator of somatic symptom disorder is the excessive reactions they have towards their symptoms (massive distress and negative emotions).
The signs of possible somatic symptom disorder can be seen through intense worry and distress, even if a medical concern is not addressed. Make sure to pay attention to these signs so you can get help for loved ones suffering from somatic symptom disorder. Possible signs of the disorder include the following behaviors/thoughts:
- Frequently looking for body abnormalities
- Consistent and frequent worry about their potential illness
- Thoughts that physical activity will bring damage to their body
- The belief that physical symptoms are signs of a serious physical illness
- The belief that the physical feelings/sensations are harmful or threatening
- Being disappointed or skeptical about medical evaluations and treatment
- Fear that their symptoms are serious (even without any evidence to support it)
- Intense impairment, much more than would be expected from a medical condition
- Unresponsive to treatment or strangely sensitive to medication (side-effects in particular)
- Constant visits to the doctors (which fail to relieve concerns, sometimes making them worse)
These behaviors can indicate a bigger issue at hand and create daily problems for the person. The somatic disorder is more than just the physical symptoms; it is more so the reaction to the possible illness. This is where the real issues can tend to occur, especially if a person spends everyday distressed and worries about their health and the future. Even if there is no confirmation of a serious illness, the person will still suffer and be stressed. This can also lead to other related disorders such as functional neurological symptom disorder.
Somatic Symptom Disorder and Substance Abuse
Due to the excessive reaction to physical symptoms, a person has risk factors for developing a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders are when a person is struggling with mental disorders and an addiction.
This is because people dealing with a somatic symptom disorder may frequently turn to substances to ease their symptoms. This can be over the counter drugs, opiates, marijuana, alcohol, or even benzodiazepines. Over time a person may continue to use these until a substance addiction emerges.
A person can become dependent on these drugs to help them relieve their physical and mental symptoms. In certain instances, some substances can actually increase a person’s sensitivity to pain over time (especially with opiates). This can cause several issues down the line, one of which is hyperalgesia, which messes with a person’s physiological and psychosomatic perception. In simple terms, this can exacerbate a person’s somatic symptom disorder and make it even harder to function.
Somatic Symptom Disorder and Alcohol
Alcohol is often abused to cope with the psychological and somatic distress caused by the disorder. It is not uncommon to see people struggling with mental issues turn to alcohol for self-medication. People see alcohol as a way to alleviate or mask some of the physical symptoms. While this may be true in the short term after the effects of alcohol have worn off, the symptoms usually come back worse and a person will feel depression and anxiety. Over time, worse effects can begin to deteriorate the body (liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.).
Somatic Symptom Disorder and Opioids
Opioids on their own are usually used to manage pain within a person. These substances can relieve some of the feelings of discomfort and pain, especially for those with somatic disorders. However, due to the nature of somatic symptom disorder, it doesn’t take long for someone to fall into dependency. Additionally, hyperalgesia (heightened sensitivity to pain) can make things even worse over time. Opioids can be very addictive and a person can easily develop a dependency if they are not careful.
Somatic Symptom Disorder and Drug Abuse
The effects of somatic symptom disorder can take a huge toll on a person’s mind and body. Some people that suffer from somatic symptom disorder experience depression and anxiety. A feeling of hopelessness may overcome them because of their unrelenting symptoms. In severe cases, a person may attempt suicide or will have significant issues adapting to life. This is why a person may be quick to turn to drugs or substances. This can eventually evolve into full-blown addiction, which in turn will turn to a co-occurring disorder (or dual diagnosis). This occurs when a person is struggling with a mental illness (in this case somatic disorder) and drug addiction. In treatment, these are treated simultaneously but separately. These cases are usually more severe and usually involve an inpatient treatment program.
Somatic Symptom Disorder Treatment
While somatic symptom disorder can be painful and stressful, there is always help around the corner. Centers like Behavioral Health Centers can help you or a loved one recover successfully and live a better, cleaner life. Treating somatic symptom disorder usually involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. It is a mental illness, so much of it will be understanding and dealing with a person’s intense worry over the symptoms. Let’s take a look at some of the treatment options available to you and your family.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Other Therapies
The main psychotherapy that will be used is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy method helps a person learn how to reduce stress and the physical symptoms they may be experiencing. Overall, CBT is vital in the treatment process and allows a person to cope and address their mental concerns and preoccupations. Family therapy can also be used as a form of psychotherapy depending on the case.
Medication is also a vital part of the process. Antidepressant medication can reduce some of the symptoms of depression and pain. During somatic disorder treatment, medication can come in handy when given at an advised dose. With this being said, it’s important to consult with your doctor or therapist before trying any antidepressants or drugs (especially in co-occurring disorders).
Let Us Help you Today
At Behavioral Health Centers, we’re ready to help you with your journey towards a healthy mind and life. Somatic symptom disorder can be painful and disorienting but with the right guidance from an experienced mental health professional, you can recover. Don’t wait to get proper treatment. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs and available treatment resources.