Monday, April 14, 2014

Addiction + Mental Health Disorder = Concurrent Disorder

You may have wondered what leads to addiction. There are many factors that might play a part but one factor is that some people have a mental health issue that they are "self-medicating" with a substance. It is very common that someone with depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD  (and other mental health issues) might use a substance to try to help their symptoms. To some extent this initially works but then the original symptoms come back often worse than before. In addition, the repeated use of the substance that was initially meant to help, eventually brings along its own problems. 

The complicating factor in getting a mental health diagnosis is that substance use and withdrawal themselves often cause psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety. This means that initially it can be quite hard to figure out whether it is the substance use or an underlying mental health issue that is at play.  In early recovery and preferably once off the substances, some people are really helped by getting a mental health assessment and possibly medication or other treatment.

Medication can be very helpful but there are basic self-care strategies that are often also essential. For an anxious person, learning how to do mindfulness meditation or other "grounding" or relaxing practices is very important. Some do daily meditation or yoga but even going for a walk in the forest or watching a sunset can be helpful. Changing anxiety-increasing thoughts and self-talk is also very useful. Of course cutting down on caffeine and getting enough sleep and exercise will also help. Sometimes people tune out when they hear these last few points because we hear those things all the time for every health condition. However, I think that must mean they work. For more information on concurrent disorders please see the Center for Mental Health and Addiction.

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