As Americans, we don’t always do the best job when it comes to discussing certain topics. Among those topics are mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. These taboo topics also include addiction issues related to drug and alcohol problems. To a degree, this reluctance to talk makes sense. After all, those are complicated problems, and we don’t want to say the wrong thing and sound either ignorant or insensitive. However, there’s a point at which not speaking at all does more damage than saying something well-intended but not exactly correct. We can’t resolve an issue if we’re afraid to say its name, so we must have a real and honest dialogue about the connections between mental health and substance abuse.
Acknowledging the reality that addiction can co-exist with mental health problems is not the same as saying one excuses the other. Sure, a lot of alcoholics are depressed, but that doesn’t give them the authority to keep drinking to excess. Many people addicted to painkillers may also have an underlying anxiety disorder, but that’s not a valid reason for them to steal from family members or go doctor-shopping. Saying, “I have a mental health problem” does not also give you the right to say, “So, you can’t judge me.” Addicts dealing with mental health conditions need compassion and treatment, above all else. Think of a person with a healthy brain. He or she likely had a pretty good childhood, although nobody’s childhood is perfect. He or she probably also living a life that works pretty well for him or her, from his or her job to life at home. People with these, and similar, circumstances, are generally less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, although it’s certainly not impossible. However, people dealing with past or present traumas often find themselves using drugs to help them get through the day.
Getting off the roller coaster
If you’re the victim of a violent crime, you may get mad at yourself for not being able to “get over it.” Then, you may turn to opioids to give you a high that helps you briefly forget the pain. However, those opioids cannot treat something like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anymore than a Band-Aid can treat a compound fracture. That’s why people with such conditions and disorders need to get help at a facility that can treat the addiction, as well as the mental health issue. Successful dual diagnosis addiction treatment looks at the root causes, and uses a combination of treatments to ensure that the patient is healed in every possible sense.
Addiction can feel like riding an incredibly scary roller coaster that won’t slow down or stop to let you off. Of course, the ride is scary, but you may feel like you don’t deserve to be safe or secure. That’s simply not the case! No one “deserves” an addiction, which is one reason why it’s incredibly unhelpful to tell people who are struggling with these issues things like, “Snap out of it,” or “What did you expect when you started drinking?” Going cold turkey only works in a small percentage of cases, and it’s way less likely to work in a dual diagnosis situation.