Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?

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I’ll get right to the point: YES, drug addiction is a mental illness. Let me explain the two main facets of drug addiction. First, there is the physical aspect of it – the physical craving for the drug because of the person’s chemical dependency upon the drug. In the case of alcohol, one will find that once they take a drink they will not be able to control the amount of alcohol they consume thereafter no matter how hard they try.

Second, there is the mental aspect of it, which is the obsession of when, how, how often and how much of the drug one can get. The addict’s thoughts are consumed with obtaining and retaining access to their drug of choice. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in my opinion, and it is lethal. It is not a moral shortcoming. It is not a choice. It is not a sin. It is not a lack of discipline or will-power. It is a mental illness!

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction qualifies as a mental illness because “addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, changing the person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting of new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.”

While the addict may have crossed the line into non-choice when it comes to using his drug, he does always have the choice of whether or not to get treatment for his illness/addiction, just like one who has bipolar or schizophrenia can choose to get help for his illness or not.

However, as in the case with many mental illnesses, sometimes a primary symptom is that which tells the person that they don’t have the illness. This symptom is called denial, and unfortunately, it can delay treatment long past what is appropriate or safe for the individual.

Resources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse
Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon
Narcotics Anonymous

Daily Meditation – The Sum of Our Recovery

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We spend so much time and effort on our recovery, and some days, it seems as though there is little pay off. What is it all worth? Has it really made a difference? And then we look back over the months and years and we see that, yes, it has made a difference. We are further along than we were.

One plus one equals two. Life is more complex than such a simple equation, but does it have to be? If we take each simple action as an accomplishment, it can become as simple as the “1” in the equation of one plus one, and our daily activities will add up into something grand. Even something as simple as sitting up in bed in the morning and putting our feet to the floor can be considered an accomplishment, for it is healthier than laying there all day!

We must give ourselves credit for every little thing we do. Let us not take for granted each step we take toward recovery, for it is all the one plus ones that add up to the sum of our well-being.

Daily Meditation – The Greatest Gift

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When the cold of depression surrounds my heart with ice, and I shiver under the blankets in my lonely bed, it feels as though I will suffer alone forever with the silent screams of the voices in my unquiet mind. If only for a moment to feel the healing touch of God, to feel the warmth of his hands melt the chill of despair that suffocates my soul – oh, how lovely this would be!

At times, it feels as if our despondent mood will last forever, but like the tides of the ocean, the ebb and flow of life and its accompanying emotions are never stagnant. What is today will not necessarily be tomorrow. With every breath is the promise of new and different possibilities.

Hanging onto the hope of a better tomorrow is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. Taking the necessary steps to facilitate such an outcome is what we are called to do. We alone are responsible for taking care of ourselves, our health, our own well-being. We must not wait for someone else to take charge of our lives. We must take even the smallest of steps to begin to make the changes in our lives to become the person we were meant to be, to heal if only a little at a time; to try if only in some small way every day.

Impulsive Behavior and Substance Abuse in Bipolar Disorder

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A recent study published in Bipolar Disorder found that

“trait impulsivity is elevated and neurocognitive functioning is impaired in patients with bipolar disorder irrespective of whether they have a substance abuse history.” ~medwireNews

Does this mean we need not worry about how much we drink? Of course not! Alcohol is a depressant – not good for those of us on mood stabilizers. How can our medications, which have such a hard time managing our symptoms to begin with, stand a chance when we are mixing other mood altering substances with them? They don’t.

This was the type of logic my therapist used to get me to take a look at my own drinking habits. I found that when I tried to stop drinking or limit the amount I drank, I became irritable and restless. When I found that I couldn’t stay stopped even when I honestly wanted to, I finally realized I was an alcoholic.

Those with alcoholism feel the wrath of insanity at some point near the end of their drinking careers. Those of us with a double whammy of having alcoholism and a mental illness feel it like no other, which is why it is so important to get the help you need to become substance-free if you want to give your mental health regimen a chance to actually work.

I have been sober for over nine years in a row, now. Has this saved me from the throes of hypomania and serious depression? No. Has it saved my life? Yes. Because if I would have been drinking, I strongly believe I would not have been able to control my impulses to engage in risky behavior while manic, and to commit suicide while depressed.

Have you ever thought about the way drinking or drug use has negatively affected your mental health? It may be worth looking into if you are symptomatic, and desperate enough to get well.

If you think you have a problem with alcohol or drugs check online or in your local phone book for the nearest treatment center or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group. AA World Services can be found at http://www.aa.org

Co-occurring Disorders

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I found this helpful article on causes and solutions of having dual diagnoses (substance abuse AND mental illness.) I wanted to bring to you some interesting facts and highlights. To view the handout in its entirety click here to download the Hazelden Foundation’s pdf.

Factors involved in the development of psychiatric disorders:

1. Vulnerability (determined by genetics and early life experiences)
2. Stress (challenges faced in life)

Factors that can help reduce symptoms and relapses:

1. Abstaining from alcohol and drug use

“Avoiding alcohol and drug use can reduce biological vulnerability in two ways. First, because substances affect the brain, using alcohol or drugs can directly worsen those vulnerable parts of the brain associated with psychiatric disorders. Second, using substances can interfere with the corrective effects of medication on vulnerability. This means that somebody who is using alcohol or drugs will not get the full benefit of any prescribed medications for his or her disorder, leading to worse symptoms and a greater chance of relapses.”

2. Take prescription medications according to your doctor’s orders
3. Learn to use positive coping skills
4. Develop social support systems
5. Engage in meaningful activities

Which factors are you incorporating into your life to help reduce symptoms and prevent relapses? Which factors do you need to add?

Keep Moving, Keep Changing – a poem

Who knew that clouds pass over
only to return so frequently –
a constant state of motion
only when the wind blows?

Who knew that scum gathers
in pond water; its slime slippery,
spotted with rot on both
dark and sunny days?

Who knew that inertia
holds the key to living,
and dying,
in the utmost subtle way?

I didn’t know, but
now I do. Do you?

How Positive Thinking Can Be a Crock

On a path to clearer views, I find myself looking up and realizing that life is nothing more than an illusion of what my mind (ego) tells me it is.

I am baffled by people who are always up-beat and positive; who love life even when things are tough; who see the good in even the most painful events.

I am writing this post and my husband, who is in the other room, just started taping up some boxes he needs to mail. Now, all I can pay attention to is the god-awful screeching sound of the tape being pulled from the tape-gun as he wraps it around the damn boxes! Like nails on a chalk board, I tell ya!

ok, I think he is finished. Like I was saying, my reality is nothing more than what my mind tells me it is. Let’s look at my outburst about the tape-gun just seconds ago. My thoughts went something like this: “Well, that made you lose your concentration which is extremely annoying! When is he going to stop doing that? I want to write and cannot with all of that racket going on!”

*uck – he’s at it again. I’ll be back…

ok, now I know he is finished because this time when the silence returned, instead of continuing to write this post I asked him nicely if he was done using the tape-gun and he said, yes. Now, I don’t have to worry about being interrupted and startled by that horribly loud sound.

One of the disadvantages of being a highly sensitive person is that what may be an average stimulus to most people is an overpowering stimulus to me. I am particular sensitive to noises. My sensory system gets overloaded if I am around too many people for too long, if the TV is too loud, if the kids have friends over playing, when car commercials come on the radio (I have to keep from going ballistic until I can turn it off), when people come in and out of the house repeatedly, when kids are outside playing loudly or a dog continuously barks… I just can’t seem to filter these things into the periphery of my awareness. Instead they dance obnoxiously in front of my face until I feel like I am going mad. Can anyone relate to that?

I am also extremely sensitive to temperature changes, bright lights, and odd smells, like when the dog needs a bath or the hamster cage needs to be cleaned. Maybe the smells are just a mom-thing, but while these noises, tactile sensations, sights, and smells are noxious to me, no one else seems to even notice them. And by noxious I mean that I get highly agitated and sometimes feel physically ill because of them.

Well, this post turned from how my mind decides what my reality is to how my sensory system is highly sensitive.

There is a fine line between what we can and cannot control. In my experience, mental illness is a biochemical phenomenon that cannot be entirely relieved by positive thinking because a large part of the illness involves the inability to control my thoughts.

Thus, “thinking positive,” “being grateful,” “pulling myself up by my bootstraps,” “getting over myself,” and other such platitudes are often ineffective. For me, until medication rearranges my brain chemicals, cognitive behavior techniques are useless. Honestly, for me, they don’t even work that well when I am properly medicated.

What works for me is getting out of my head completely. Excessive thinking is like poison for me which is why I have cut way back on my blog posts. I love reading other people’s writings, listening to positive speakers share their experiences, and creating fine art because the voices in my own head go away during these times – times in which I am completely in the present moment, not thinking about the past or wondering about the future, but experiencing exactly what is going on in the moment – as it is with no judgment of it being “good” or “bad” or otherwise, but just noticing and experiencing.

I did this with the tape-gun incident the second time around. I stopped writing, closed my eyes, stopped thinking and just listened to the sound. To my surprise, my agitation subsided.

Acceptance is the key to relieving most, if not all, of my suffering. Acceptance is the key that unlocks the door to inner peace within me no matter what is going on around me.

Now, if the TV was on, the kids were fighting, and the dirty dog was lying at my feet at the same time my husband started taping up those boxes, I am sure I would not have been able to do this. But, I believe with practice, someday I will be capable of it.

How’s that for positive thinking? 😉