According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately half of the people who suffer from a serious mental illness and one-third of those who suffer from any mental illness also have substance abuse issues. Since substance abuse and mental illness often occur together, they need to be treated simultaneously by a team of professionals. The goal for these individuals then is recovery from mental illness and addiction.
I completely understand how it feels like to be treated for a dual diagnosis. When I first stepped through the doors of my inpatient substance abuse treatment program, I was tired, broken and scared. I had no idea what the next 30 days were going to look like, but I knew I wanted a way out of the life that I was living. It took two weeks before I began to feel physically better, but mentally and emotionally I still felt dead.
One afternoon, as I sat under a tree eating lunch, I looked out over the grass to the waterfall across the yard and tried to recall the last time I felt happiness. Nothing came to mind. Sure, there were many occasions in my life that were festive, but I did not feel the warm fuzzy sense of well-being that the people around me seemed to feel.
I was somewhat unnerved by the realization that maybe I had never had a happy moment in my entire life, so I decided to share my thoughts with the counselor I met with once a week at the center. At the end of our session, my counselor concluded that I was suffering from depression and probably had been since I was a teenager. She prescribed an anti-depressant and said I had a lot of happiness to look forward to.
I was skeptical but I agreed to give medication a shot. I had nothing to lose and the thought of staying sober without the possibility of enjoying my life was almost unbearable. I was tired of living in darkness.
It took about two weeks before I noticed the change. It was subtle but significant. I had a few days left at rehab before I stepped back into the real world and I was nervous. I found myself again sitting under the same tree I had when I first started rehab, but this time I noticed something was different. The sunshine was yellow and warm, the water trickling down the fountain made bubbling noises, and the grass was a beautiful shade of green. I was used to seeing the world around me hazy and unclear, like looking through the fog on a sunny day. I would make out objects and find my way around okay, but everything was muted. Now, the world around me was in high definition.
Right then and there, I did something that I had not done in a long time. I laughed out loud. The noise startled me and I looked around to see if anyone had heard. I felt a little warm fuzzy feeling creeping into my stomach and wondered if this was what happy felt like.
That was the beginning of a new era for me. Frankly, without medication for my underlying psychological problem, I don't know if I would have continued a life of sobriety. It was a blessing and I am thankful for the opportunity to experience the kind of peace and fulfillment that I have witnessed in other people.
People in recovery from substance abuse have differing opinions on taking any medication, but one thing needs to be clear, taking medication is not substance abuse. There is a difference between taking a medication that manages your mood and taking a drug that alters your mood.
For one, there are several benefits to taking medication:
- Reduction of psychiatric symptoms
- Reduction of depressed mood symptoms
- Help in preventing relapse of mental illness
- Minimize drug cravings
- Aid in maintaining abstinence from addictive substances
Diagnosis and treatment of underlying mental illness is a critical part of the recovery process. The chances of dropping out of treatment and/or relapse increase when the underlying mental illness is left untreated. If you or someone you love is ready to get help, here’s a list of rehab programs that specialize on dual diagnosis.
To get the most benefit from any medication you are prescribed, you must take it exactly as prescribed. Do not abandon it if you think it isn't working. Instead, discuss your concerns with a professional. Modifications to the medication plan can be made by your doctor based on your unique set of needs.
Remember, healing takes time and the road is often bumpy, but with proper diagnosis, treatment and support, recovery does happen. There is color, happiness and life to look forward to in sobriety.