If you or your loved ones are struggling with addiction, chances are your mental health has also suffered for it. Research shows that under certain stressors, we’re more prone to develop long-term negative side effects, both physically and mentally. Teens and adults faced with stigma and self-loathing can develop depressive symptoms, to the point of suicide. And addiction drives these thoughts to the foreground, as it nearly always puts people in a bad place socially, financially, and mentally. Addiction affects the brain in more ways than one, making it more susceptible to thoughts of anxiety and depression, as well as causing long-term damage.
Addiction is a matter of mental illness and having a mental illness can make you more prone to addiction. This dangerous relationship adds another layer to addiction treatment, making treatment not only a matter of sobriety, but a matter of psychiatry. Taking someone off the drugs isn’t enough. You have to help them deal with their own mind after the drugs wear off and help them find a way to never rely on them again.
Why Mental Health and Addiction Are Intertwined
Our ability to overcome life’s challenges is dependent on how we individually react to events in our lives, rather than the objective magnitude of the events themselves. That’s why it’s so hard to gauge what is challenging, what is painful, and what is traumatic. These are all subjective things, different for everyone. And it’s impossible to know how to live someone else’s life until you’ve lived it.
Sometimes, though, we can guess. This helps us empathize and feel compassion towards others around us, who are less fortunate, especially those who struggle with disability and loss of limb. But it’s harder to gauge how a person’s mental health makes life hard. At first glance, you can’t see depression, or general anxiety, or a case of OCD. But it surely plays a massive role in how life plays out, and how hard things feel. Things we take for granted – like the ability to make friends, wake up and get the day started at a normal hour, or fall asleep every night – may be almost impossible for someone with social anxiety, or depression, or insomnia.
Addiction, Mental Health, and Stigma
People with mental health issues don’t get better by ‘getting themselves together’. That kind of advice doesn’t help someone with a mental disorder. It only serves to make them feel worse about themselves. And that feeling feeds into what many people with mental illness already feel: shame.
People who struggle with mental health issues are also more likely to get addicted to drugs. And they’re more sensitive to the stigma attached to drug use. If you make someone feel like a failure for being an addict, they’ll add that to an ever-growing list of personal gripes, fears, and self-deprecating thoughts. It’s why it’s important, now more than ever, to recognize that mental health and addiction are issues that need to be addressed with compassion and empathy, rather than judgment. Because no matter how we might feel about how we’ve dealt with life’s challenges, there are others who don’t live and think like most people do.
Sometimes, these issues start early in life. Sometimes, however, they manifest and don’t develop fully until triggered. Drug use, for example, isn’t just potentially the result of mental health issues, but it can cause them to develop and metastasize. Mental health issues and addiction are intertwined because they’re both diseases of the brain, and because they’re both something that society struggles to identify and empathize with.
Of course, not everyone with mental health problems gets addicted to drugs. Most don’t, in fact. But far more addicts struggle with related mental health problems (such as depression and anxiety) than the general population. If you have a history of addiction, you need to consider your own mental health.
Professional Help Can Prevent Relapses
Mental disorders aren’t solved by prayer or willpower, although both of these things can help. The will to feel better and the readiness to ask for help both on a spiritual and social level is important. But so is professional help. Psychiatrists are trained to help patients in all walks and stages of life, including patients who have a mental disorder on top of an addiction. If you’ve been sober for a while but don’t quite feel right, it doesn’t hurt to visit a professional and talk about your feelings.
Most people don’t wake up and realize they’re ill. It’s a slow process, and you might not realize that the way you’re feeling is much out of the ordinary. Or, you might hope it passes. Getting help as soon as you feel that something is wrong can help potentially prevent a relapse, or other negative developments.
There’s More to Mental Health Than Medication
Some people fear that if they approach a mental health professional about a potential mental illness, they’re just going to be written off with a short, mindless diagnosis and a prescription. If you’re worried that your addiction won’t be taken into account, you can put your fears to rest by visiting an addiction specialist – one of many psychiatric professionals in the US who specialize in helping patients with addiction.
However, any reputable psychiatrist will think long and hard before prescribing anything. Mental health treatment is always more complicated than just a pill. Most doctors prescribe medication as well as therapy, as well as potential alternative treatments, from new imports like yoga and mindfulness, to more invasive treatments in cases of treatment-resistance, like neuromodulation.
What You Can Do at Home
If you’re working on your sobriety but are conscious of the fact that addiction can leave lasting emotional and psychological scarring, consider working on improving your mental health by taking up practices and hobbies that not only in certain cases help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, but also work to prevent them.
- Mindfulness Training
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
- Group Meetings
- Creative Writing
- Balanced Diet
- Normal Sleeping Schedule (8 hours or more, before midnight)
Outside of a few basic principles like a healthy diet and a normal sleeping schedule, you don’t have to do these every day – doing one or two of these things regularly is enough.