My Opinion on the Substance Abuse/ Mental Illness Connection

The Truth About Drugs
The Truth About Drugs (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

I just recently graduated treatment. This treatment center was split into four sections. Co-Ed Juvenille section, Men’s Residential, Women’s Treatment, and my section was the Co-Ed Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment (IDDT) section. These are just the inpatient areas.

The staff can be quoted in saying that my section, IDDT, was merely addicts with mental health disorders that were medicated. Basically they were implying that most people on the other sections often were not yet diagnosed and medicated.

Often my fellow inpatients had been in the general residential areas long before coming to IDDT. So yes, in IDDT we were definitlly self-medicated. Obviously we were doing a very poor job. In my opinion our relapses are more frequent when our medications are not working correctly. But this is not the whole issue and never will be.

In my travels being surrounded by substance abusers I have run into people with depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and just about everything else under the sun. These were not my diagnoses, these were diagnoses that existed in my fellow users long before they were substance abusers. I have in rare instances run into people who were never diagnosed with a mental health disorder and used merely as a way to “party.” Usually these were people who used more in the lines of MDMA and acid. Then there are the social pot and alcohol users who have no mental health disorders as well.

I have spoken with mental health professionals and with users and done the research and found that it is completely possible, but not guaranteed, that substance abuse can create a mental health disorder or cause it to become worse. For example, chronic use of crack cocaine could possibly cause schizophrenia, chronic abuse of benzos can cause anxiety, or acid can cause psychotic episodes long after the use of this drug. These are theories, not proof. My research has shown no proof that this can or does happen or that if it does happen if it is a permanent change in brain chemistry or if it is temporary. As usual, the brain is far too complex to do anything but theorize about.

Mental health professionals state that a true first time diagnosis of a patient is not possible until at least a six month period of straight up sobriety. Too many drugs mimic the symptoms of mental health disorders or mask them all together. Also, several withdrawl symptoms can mimic a mental health disorder. For example, withdrawl from heroin leaves the addict with anxiety and mood swings which may look like bipolar disorder even if the addict has never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

In conclusion, I think that the majority of substance abuse is a person trying to “fix” or “mask” physical and psychological pain. Which means in order to deal with addiction we must focus on the whole person, the physical and psychological, not just try to get the addict to quit their drug and remain in the same situation physically and psychologically. Mind, Body, and Spirit must be in balance.

Thank you for listening 🙂


One thought on “My Opinion on the Substance Abuse/ Mental Illness Connection”

  1. I wonder about this connection as well. I’ve done some research but the questions I really want answered aren’t addressed. Was I an alcoholic before I became bipolar? After? Does it matter? Now that’s I’ve gotten sober for 62 days, is it possible I’m no longer bipolar? Is my problem now the medication that was prescribed while I was drunk?

    Thanks for posting.

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