Mental Illness and Addiction: Finding Recovery from Both

It’s estimated that at least half of people who suffer from addiction are also dealing with one type of mental disorder or another, and sometimes more than one. For example, the person who is addicted to alcohol may also be dealing with trauma and depression. Or a person with an eating disorder may also be dealing with an anxiety disorder.

Why is there such a close connection between addiction and mental health? What comes first? For some, the substance use comes first. People struggling with alcoholism may develop depression as a result of the negative consequences that often come with problems with alcohol. In other cases, the depression or other disorder comes first. Often substance abuse begins with a need to become numb or distracted from the symptoms of mental illness. For example, people who feel anxious or depressed a lot of the time may use drugs to drown out these symptoms.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol eventually make things worse. Symptoms increase and life becomes more unmanageable. Some people who suffer from mental illness and addiction end up living on the streets or being shuffled from hospitals to jails to rehabs.

Co-Occurring Disorders and Treatment

When someone suffers from mental illness and addiction, they are said to have a co-occurring disorder. Another common term for this is dual diagnosis. Recovering from addiction is tough, but when you add mental illness to the mix, it gets even tougher.

This is often due to inadequate treatment of one or both disorders. For the person seeking mental health recovery, not addressing the addiction aspect of their problems means that treatment for mental illness will be less effective. For those seeking help for addiction, not addressing mental illness means relapse is more likely. The answer lies in treating both disorders.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

A treatment plan that not only treats addiction but also addresses mental illness is your best shot at truly recovering. When an individual struggling with mental illness goes to a treatment center that doesn’t deal with their whole illness, it’s like putting a bandage on the problem rather than treating it. Eventually, the bandage falls off, and the wound is still not healed.

Trauma and Addiction

One recurring issue that many addicts struggle with is trauma, which may be from childhood or from more recent event or events. The lifestyle of the using addict is often filled with violence and fear. No matter when they take place, abuse, neglect and traumatic events don’t just fade away. As time goes by, it’s not unusual for those who have experienced trauma to turn to drugs and alcohol as a means to cope.

Traditional addiction recovery plans may help teach you some new habits and coping skills and give you a safe place to recover from addiction, but unless your trauma is dealt with, you may find yourself repeating patterns of substance abuse over and over again.

Dual-diagnosis treatment plans treat the whole person, not just their addiction. Getting clean and sober is a great achievement, but if treatment doesn’t help you with your depression, anxiety or trauma, you may struggle with relapse. Getting educated about your mental health, learning tools to cope with your symptoms, and learning how to advocate for yourself are essential if you want to achieve freedom from addiction.

If you suffer from a co-occurring disorder, or you have a loved one who is struggling, addictions counselling is available. When searching for a rehabilitation center, recovery group, or therapist, be sure that they offer treatment for dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.