Is addiction only part of the problem?

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get sober and more money than I care to mention. I could always get clean… I just couldn’t stay that way. I came to believe that I would spend the rest of my life on the phone with a pharmacy trying to refill a prescription too early or at the CVS buying Merlot at 5:00 a.m…. it sucked! Why was I the only one that couldn’t get it? Why couldn’t I just be alive like everyone else? My God it was such a depressing way to live.

Maybe there was something more to my problem than just being a hopeless drug addict. Fortunately, someone finally diagnosed my problem. Yes, I am an alcoholic and drug addict…. but the problem goes much deeper than that. I also live with major depression and anxiety disorders. I’d never addressed either because I didn’t know how and I didn’t know they were destroying my life… Once I got help for the underlying source of my addictions, I could face what was happening to me.

I wasn’t a bad guy that needed to act better …. I was a sick guy that needed to get better. With the correct medications and counseling my life changed.

 If you struggle with drug or alcohol problems, there’s a strong chance that you may also be fighting depression, anxiety, mood swings or compulsive behavior. It’s not uncommon for people with mental health disorders to abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their moods or control their fears.

When you have both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety, it is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.

Dealing with substance abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction is never easy, and it’s even more difficult when you’re also struggling with mental health problems, but there are treatments that can help. With proper treatment, support, and self-help strategies, you can overcome a dual diagnosis and reclaim your life.

In a dual diagnosis, both the mental health issue and the drug or alcohol addiction have their own unique symptoms that may get in the way of your ability to function, handle life’s difficulties, and relate to others. To make the situation more complicated, the co-occurring disorders also affect each other and interact. When a mental health problem goes untreated, the substance abuse problem usually gets worse as well. And when alcohol or drug abuse increases, mental health problems usually increase too.

Addiction is common in people with mental health problems. But although substance abuse and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are closely linked, one does not directly cause the other.

It can be difficult to diagnose a substance abuse problem and a co-occurring mental health disorder. It takes time to tease out what might be a mental disorder and what might be a drug or alcohol problem.

Complicating the issue is denial. Denial is common in substance abuse. It’s hard to admit how dependent you are on alcohol or drugs or how much they affect your life. Denial frequently occurs in mental disorders as well. The symptoms of depression or anxiety can be frightening, so you may ignore them and hope they go away. Or you may be ashamed or afraid of being viewed as weak if you admit the problem.

Why are co-occurring disorders so common among teenagers and adults with a history of alcoholism or drug abuse? This question may seem to have obvious answers, but the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse is actually very complicated. Anyone who has lived with unmanageable emotions, chronic depression or uncontrollable anxiety knows how tempting it is to numb these feelings somehow. Self-medicating with tranquilizers, booze, meth or painkillers might seem like the fastest, most effective way to get relief from mental illness.

The National Institute on Health estimates that up to 60 percent of Americans with a substance use disorder also suffer from mental illness. It also reports that as many as 10 million individuals in the US meet the criteria for at least one mental health disorder as well as a substance use disorder.

If you suspect that you or someone you love has a psychiatric disorder, a substance abuse problem or a combination of both, it’s important to get help. Co-occurring disorders can have severe consequences for the alcoholic and the family.

If you are like me getting clean won’t last because that’s only part of the problem. No one has to do this alone … there is a better life waiting on you!

This is my journey… this is my life!

Rob Cantrell

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