FSCR: Mental Health And Addiction

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in 2014 20.2 million adults in the U.S. had an addiction diagnosis and 7.9 million were diagnosed with both an addiction and mental illness. This is not uncommon. It is more commonly known as a “dual disorder” and both need to be treated for successful recovery.

However, these statistics do not include children and teens, who are becoming addicts at very young ages, sometimes as young as approximately eight years old, depending on their living environment. This will most likely start with tobacco and alcohol. “An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.”(NIAAA; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Fact Sheet; 8/2018).

A mental illness includes depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), autism spectrum, schizophrenia and many more. Most mental disorders have symptoms that emerge by the end of elementary school (some earlier, such as learning disabilities that can be considered mental illness) and into late teens to early twenties. Diagnosing can be difficult during the formative years due to “normal behaviors” that occur during those years as well. Teens have hormones that are constantly changing and this can affect their emotions and behaviors. It’s always a good recommendation to have a complete physical and track symptoms for: when they started, how long they last, how frequently they happen, where they happen, foods that are being eaten for the possibility of allergies that can affect moods and behaviors and take the documentation to the physical for the doctor to review.

Anyone, however, can develop depression and/or anxiety and other mental illnesses at any time. Traumatic experiences can cause them.

Managing mental health symptoms can be difficult and many people turn to alcohol and other drugs. No one wakes up and decides they want to be an alcoholic or drug addict. It happens over time. Young people can get curious about the effects of the substances and/or use it to fit in with the popular group. Whatever the reason for starting, it can quickly become a problem where a person needs more of the substance to obtain the same result as when they started. Example: a person used to be able to get high and/or drunk on three 12 oz. beers and now the person finds they need six 12 oz. beers for the same effect. Then this same person realizes how much better they feel or not that they feel better but they have escaped thinking about their problems while they drink. If it isn’t alcohol, it might be opiates, crack, marijuana, benzodiazepines, stimulants, tobacco or any mixture someone might find in their medicine cabinet.

The process to addiction is the same. Experimentation does not mean a person will become an addict. There are physical, psychological, environmental and genetic factors. With education and positive environments, healthy physical and psychological checkups, even a person raised in an addictive environment with genetic predisposition can choose to not over-indulge or not at all. There are people who don’t think they are depressed but once assessed, realize they have a long standing underlying mild depression. Most people who use substances are using to change something – emotions, immediate feelings etc.

Mental health symptoms that people attempt to manage with substances (even tobacco – the average smoker will tell you it helped them relax when stressed in the beginning and now they have physical and mental cravings several times a day, smoking more with increased stress.

Besides stress, people use substances due to depression, anxiety, mood stabilization, psychosis, sad times such as deaths, funerals, divorce etc. and happy times as well such as baby births, weddings, any type of party or celebration.

Substance use becomes a problem when people continue the pattern of using it “just because” and then it has its repercussions and the addict/alcoholic will retreat into what they do best – use their substance of choice to manage not only their mental health symptoms but now they have created shame, guilt and embarrassment.

If there is a family involved, addiction also affects the entire family and they will do whatever they can to “help”, usually co-dependency characteristics. These are bailing them out of jail, giving money to pay rent when it is actually being used for more of the substance etc. Family will be hurt and involved so deeply and intensely they need their own treatment and recovery. Family treatment is also recommended.

If a person is admitted for treatment for the substance use, they are assessed for outpatient or inpatient level of care, depending on their substance of use, length of use, frequency of use, amount of use, physical and mental health complications.

Whatever level of care the person attends, all aspects of their life is addressed if they want it to be, as the treatment is individual and person-centered. The areas the patient can choose from are substance use, mental health, family, vocational, spiritual and recreational.

The most important part of recovery of addiction is understanding that a person has learned they think the substance has done a wonderful job in helping them to manage their emotions whether it’s depression, anxiety, stabilization of moods, stabilization of ADHD etc. and it will be difficult for them to learn they can do this without the drugs.

With thorough assessment, person centered treatment planning and a compassionate therapist willing to start where the client is and go at their pace, it can be accomplished.

There are several agencies in the area that can address your needs if you are suffering with a dual disorder, or even one or the other.

Laurie Passet, is a LMSW, CASAC – Master Level, a Counselor at Family Services of the Chautauqua Region, and an Adjunct Lecturer at Fredonia SUNY, Sociocultural and Justice Sciences.

Family Service of the Chautauqua Region has qualified therapists that are willing to help you. If necessary, you can be referred for a higher level of care, such as inpatient treatment and then return to Family Services for follow up.

For an appointment, please call Family Service at 488-1971 or go online to fscrmentalhealth.com.