Sunday, November 16, 2014

Guest Post: Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
Author: Jon Huynh

Mental illness in any form is very troubling for both individuals that have to cope with their own afflictions and also for those attempting to assist individuals with healing. This difficulty is a result of the complex nature of mental diseases which can be challenging for professionals to address-- let alone inexperienced friends and family members. Contributing greatly to this complexity is that a particular disease is often simultaneously a disease itself and a symptom of other illnesses.

This tangled relationship between different mental diseases means that they can often aggravate and serve as triggers for one another. Mental disease like depression can cause individuals to seek out mind and mood altering substances in a process commonly referred to as “self medicating”. Individuals do this in an attempt to alleviate the difficult circumstances of their affliction.This behavior is often associated with another mental disorder: addiction.

While addiction isn't exclusively limited to chemical substance abuse, this type of addiction is particularly dangerous because both behavior and the chemical substances have a powerful affect on mental stability. Substance abuse exacerbated by other mental illnesses like depression is difficult to treat because of the cycle that develops between the two. That is, depression drives an individual to self medicating, but the resulting addiction drives the individual back toward depression.

To make a full recovery, all aspects of mental illness and addiction have to be addressed.This means, individuals must first be properly diagnosed by a professional. Then, the individual’s unique addiction cycle must be addressed. Generally, this is done by treating the individual for their substance abuse itself and for any existing mental conditions which contribute to their cycle of abuse.

Mental Illness
Since mental illnesses can trigger, aggravate, and act as symptoms for other ailments, they are difficult to diagnose and treat. For example, an individual may be correctly diagnosed with depression, but depending on how they experience depression, they may also have bipolar, manic, or anxiety disorders as well. All of these types of disorders indicate some sort of chemical imbalances in the brain. For some, these imbalances may be temporary indicating that they are the result of circumstantial conditions like high amounts of stress or physical trauma. Though for others, these imbalances may be more permanent, alluding to a genetic predisposition or birth defect. Whatever the underlying causes, individuals suffering from these conditions often experience feelings of permanent hopelessness, regardless of their personal circumstances.

Some individuals may even recognize that something is wrong, but feel a complete inability to function because of the feelings of hopelessness and despair that are common with these types of diseases. These feelings can be the precursor for self medication, which is often the trigger for dependency and addiction. While individuals may feel temporary relief from some of the symptoms of their mental illness, substance abuse inevitably makes these symptoms worse, and ultimately much more difficult to treat.

Substance Abuse and Chemical Addiction

Addiction isn't exclusive to substance abuse. Individuals can become addicted to pornography, objects, food, and many other things. What makes substance abuse so dangerous is that both the chemical addiction and the behaviors associated with it can greatly alter an individual's mental and emotional stability. With chemical addiction, the focus is typically placed on how various chemicals affect the mind and body. In fact, the initial attraction individuals have to a particular substance is often how that chemical makes them feel when it alters their body chemistry.

For individuals suffering from depression, a drug may offer temporary relief from what is otherwise a permanent state of discomfort. However, this is precisely what makes substance abuse so dangerous. At first, it may seem as though the feelings of temporary relief are signs of a permanent solution. Additionally, an individual may feel like they are retaking control of their life because they are able to control how they feel through the use of the drug. However, the longer an individual uses a substance to alter their body and mind, the more dependent they become on that substance to function. In the long term, the body can become physically and mentally addicted to that substance, permanently altering brain chemicals and body functions for the worse.

While the seriousness of the chemical effects of substance abuse can’t be stressed enough, they are not the only debilitating factors of substance abuse. What is often overlooked about chemical addictions are the behavioral aspects of the disease and how they contribute to mental stress.
In a web article by Renaissance Recovery Center located here, they detail many behaviors that change in individuals over the course of chemical dependence and addiction. However, it isn't just the changes in an individual’s behavior that are so devastating. It is also the consequences that result from that new behavior. For example, Renaissance Recovery notes that: “. . . deterioration in appearance, personal hygiene. . . [and] job performance. . .” are all common behavioral changes that individuals might experience in their dependency. Notice that with or without substance abuse tied into the equation, these behaviors are typical indicators for-- and contributing factors to-- depression related mental illnesses.

Treating Mental Illnesses and Substance Abuse
Treating mental illnesses is difficult in the first place, but substance abuse greatly compounds the issue. If an individual does have a chemical addiction, then both the addiction and other mental illnesses must be treated in order for the individual to make a recovery. Additionally, addiction is itself a mental disorder and can become entangled in the grey area between symptom and affliction, much like other depression related mental illnesses. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to diagnose and consequently effectively treat chemical dependency. This is why it is critical for individuals dealing with mental illness and chemical addiction to seek professional help. Inexperienced and unprofessional attempts to address these serious conditions can lead to permanently crippling circumstances.

If you or a loved one is experiencing the pains of mental illness and chemical dependency, please make an effort to contact a professional right away. There are a lot of organizations and resources that offer assistance in these matters. The aforementioned Renaissance Recovery Center is an example of a rehabilitation facility that regularly treats patients suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. Time is critical in these issues. Both mental illness and substance abuse are painful conditions, but substance abuse can also lead to permanent damage, including worsening mental illness. Do the right thing and take action to assist yourself, or a loved one that is in need. The road to recovery may seem painful, but it is nothing in comparison to the potential suffering that comes from long term substance abuse.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Addiction Recovery My Way

One of the many things that makes this world such a beautiful and wonderful place is its diversity. We are all beautifully unique with different wants and needs. We shouldn't ever be expected to all fit in a box and conform to just one way of doing things. Its simply isn't who we are as humans beings. We are amazingly complex individuals and we need that freedom to be ourselves and do what works for us in order for us to grow into all that we can be.

I've had people who have been rude to me, ignored me,  blocked me and even shunned me once they found out I wasn't doing recovery their way. Every time I ask myself why. Why not support a fellow recovering addict and recovery in all its forms. If it's creating a better life for them and their loved ones than Why Not? I would think these recovering addicts would understand better than most the struggle of recovery. We should stand together and lift each other up. Changing our lives in no small task. We should be proud of each other no matter what recovery path we have chosen. Accepting and encouraging individual differences is an amazing thing. It means we have evolved to see past our own sense of self and ego to see the beauty in what is different from us.

If what their doing works for them who I am to judge or make their recovery seem less important or make them feel less than because they aren't doing it my way. Being in the methadone maintenance program I've had to defend my recovery to quite a few people and surprisingly most of them were in recovery themselves. Usually regular folks are more accepting and able to see the positive changes in my life for what they are. Methadone has given me my life back after I had tried everything else to quit, its the only thing that worked for me. 

Another really big issue for some is that I don't see abstinence from alcohol as part of my recovery. I've never had a problem with it. I only drink a few times a year and I rarely get drunk. I've been clean from drugs for many years now and drinking hasn't caused me to relapse in all this time. If I felt like my recovery was in danger I wouldn't drink. I dont drink to get drunk and I dont drink when Im angry or emotionally unstable. I know my way of doing recovery doesn't work for most people but it works for me. I'm drug free and living a "normal" life.

I know alcohol can be a really big problem for some people and by choosing to have a couple drinks on my birthday or at Christmas doesn't mean I don't see alcohol as a huge challenge for some recovering addicts. It doesn't mean I don't respect their struggle or that I don't see it as a big deal for some people. Its just that alcohol isn't a problem for me personally. I respect each of your individual recovery paths so much. Recovery is something to be proud of and If it feels right to you than that's what matters in the end. May you all be happy and find that inner peace we are all looking for.


Sunday, November 02, 2014

To My Addict Friend I Forgive You But I'm Still Letting You Go

I use to think that if I forgave someone it meant that Id have to let that person back into my life and pretend like nothing ever happened. In trying to avoid anymore disappointment and pain Id hold on to that grudge which in the end was just causing me more pain. I've come to realize that forgiving someone doesn't mean I have to allow them into my life again. Actually forgiving them means releasing them from my life completely because I wont be carrying that grudge with me. 

Not many people showed up for my baby shower because I haven't really kept in contact with anyone since leaving to go to university. Life just seemed to get in the way and because I focused all my energy on building a future for myself I ended up letting my social life slide away from me. Even one of my long time best friend who's also pregnant right now decided not to show up to my baby shower at the last minute. 

I thought her out of all people would of showed up and showed her support. Having kept in contact with her over the years despite her rocky path these past few years I was really counting on her to be there. I've distanced myself from her a few times in the past but I'd eventually forgive her thinking things had changed and try to get close again only to be disappointed. I feel like I've given her many chances because I used to be where she is and I understand her struggles. 

At one point I wasn't a good friend either, but O cant let that guilt keep holding me back. There comes a point where I need to just forgive and distance myself until she gets better and wants to be in my life. Even though I don't agree with her life at the moment I don't judge her for her choices. I just don't want to be part of it and end up being disappointed again.

It really makes me sad because being my childhood best friend and one of the only friends I've kept it contact with I was really looking forward to play dates and being first time mommy's together. Our babies being due only a couple months a part it really would of been something special to share with her. I can only hope that things get better for her soon and that she reaches out to me when they do.