Addiction and Mental Illness | Guest blog

Self-medication is a very common problem among people with mental illness. In people with bipolar disorder, roughly 56% had struggled with addiction at some point in their lives. When self-medication leads to addiction, the effects can become very dangerous and detrimental. Self-medication with substance abuse most often aggravates the symptoms after a short period of relief, creating a vicious circle of feeling better, feeling worse than before, and needing to feel better again. There are a few methods of treating addiction and preventing unintentional overdose in people with mental illness.

Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms 

A predominant reason people with mental illness turn to self-medication is lacking the ability to cope with their symptoms. If they are not receiving treatment, they likely are not learning how to cope. Therefore, they end up coping in the only way they know how and unintentionally exacerbating their symptoms.

Learning how to cope well means a number of things depending on the illness. Daily coping might be things such as regular meditation, hobbies, or exercise. Any beneficial action that offers symptoms relief can be considered a coping tactic.

Seek Treatment for Both the Illness and the Addiction 

If an addiction is being treated without also tackling the illness itself, there is a much higher likelihood of relapse. The person may be recovering from the addiction but the need to self-medicate in order to cope with the illness still exists. Therefore, treatment and therapy for the illness is a critical component of addiction recovery and prevention of relapse or overdose.

While two separate therapies can be effective, a program that specializes in simultaneous treatment of both mental illness and addiction is best. A generalized addiction treatment may be unable to effectively address the unique form of addiction that takes place in people with mental illness.

Bring in Support 

Support for addiction and mental illness can come in many forms. For most, it means family members and friends who are willing to keep them on the right track and cope positively. A support network is a critical component of ensuring the person is attending treatment sessions, taking proper doses of required medication, and steering clear of addictive substances.

For others, support may come in the form of a service dog. Psychological service dogs are less common than service dogs that assist with physical disabilities; however, they perform a crucial service. Because each mental illness is different, each dog is trained differently. For example, a PTSD service dog might be trained to pull her handler from a flashback, keep crowds at bay, or comfort the sufferer during episodes. The support offered by the service dog can be the difference between positive coping and substance abuse. When a dog relies on you for love and care, it can become more difficult to excuse substance abuse.

Treating addiction in those with mental illness varies widely from individual to individual. Depending on the person’s illness, history, and support system, the efficacy of the treatment can differ. However, as a general rule, most people who self-medicate as a result of mental illness will benefit from learning positive ways to cope with symptoms, undergoing treatment that addresses both their addiction and their illness, and having a support system of some kind. Keep in mind that It always is best to seek the advice of a professional counselor before attempting any at-home treatments.

Guest blogger Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.