October – Addiction & Mental Illness

October – Addiction & Mental Illness

October Mental Health Discussion

Addiction & Mental Health

Retrieved from http://shanghaicounselingservices.com/addiction-therapy/

Sometimes it’s hard to understand. How can someone be an addict? How can you put a substance above anything and everything? The answer is tricky; It’s not so black and white. It’s never a matter of a substance being more important than something else or someone else. It can be hard to explain to people, so let me try. I am an addict. I know the fine line, I’ve walked it. Let me tell you how it feels and why people with mental illness are so prone to becoming addicts.

Here’s a statistic for you; when you have a mental illness, you are TWICE as likely to develop an addiction than the average person. This is referred to as having a concurrent disorder. But what does that mean? Concurrent disorders are mental disorders and substance use problems that happen at the same time. For example; I have bipolar disorder primarily, and concurrently am an alcoholic. Some of you may wonder why this happens. Why does someone who is already suffering, end up suffering even more? It can be hard to express, but I’ll try my best.

The first time I got drunk, I was 14 years old. My dad had just left us, and I was lost. I felt hopeless and unworthy of love. I felt as if I wasn’t very important; how could a father leave his daughter so easily? I’ll never be able to answer this question sadly. I will never understand, and it haunts me even to this day. I have struggled with this for as long as I can remember. The first night I ever got drunk, I was with my friend and was trying to get the attentions of an older boy. He was 16 and his name was Alex. I remember feeling like if I got the attention of Alex, everything would feel complete. I would stop feeling so empty inside. So, when he offered to have us come over when his parents weren’t home and have some drinks, I immediately accepted. He had a bottle of rye and I was ready for it. From the first sip, I could feel myself getting tingly. I felt alive, weightless, unstoppable. I felt so confident and like nothing in the world could bring me down.

Later that night, I was throwing up in the bathroom at my home and my mom had caught me. The punishment was minor, as my mom knew what a difficult time this was for me. She tried to go easy on me. Although I was grounded, I don’t know that I fully regretted it. I chased that feeling; the feeling of being invincible, of the pain going away. For the next 4 years, I would find people to boot for me and buy me alcohol, including my mother. I manipulated her into thinking it was a fun teenage thing, just wanting to experiment and have just 4 coolers. What she didn’t know is that every time I went into the kitchen to get another cooler, I found the tequila in the top cupboard and would take a shot. Most of high school, I was drunk. And as a result, I did not graduate. I was constantly either drunk or high.

I don’t know how I managed to hide this. The late nights, the partying, the numbing. And oh, did I feel numb. It was blissful. I thought, “wow, I never have to feel this pain again”. I chased the high and the buzz because it was easier than dealing with reality. My dad didn’t love me. I always felt out of place. I always knew something wasn’t right with my emotions and lack of stability. But I never had an interest in figuring out what was wrong. I was young. I was scared. I was confused.

I remember filling out a questionnaire with my old counselor when my dad left. She told my mom I was likely to have some sort of mood disorder and she suspected bipolar disorder. This was horrifying to hear as a young teen. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I fit in with the other teenagers? Why was I so moody and constantly tired? I was so up and down, and I couldn’t understand and comprehend what was going through my head. It was so unnerving and uncomfortable. Again, I turned to alcohol to calm my nerves and anxiety about this issue. All I ever wanted to do was drink. I remember on weekends I had no plans, I would ask my mom if we could have one of our regular movie nights. This consisted of going to Blockbuster, renting some movies, eating popcorn, and her booting for me. I insisted. “Mom, it’s just a few coolers”. To this day, I still feel guilty about the role I got my mother to play in my alcoholism. For how would she have known where I was at mentally? Everyone else my age was drinking. Why should she be concerned? Especially when she didn’t know about my regular drug use.

This may seem like a story about childhood trauma – I get how it would seem that way. But this is my story of bipolar disorder. The average age that bipolar disorder symptoms come out to play is, yes, 14 years of age. I can say as someone with this mental illness, it makes you prone to the dramatics. Everything is felt so intensely and deeply. Your emotions are heightened. This made me exposed to becoming an alcoholic.

My relationship with alcohol is very complicated. I am capable to just having casual drinks. I am capable of socially drinking without going into the excess. However, most of the time, I am depressed. I feel helpless and like all I need is to numb the sadness and emptiness. This is the sad reality of mental illness. We need to numb ourselves because it can be so horribly, irrevocably, ridiculously… overwhelming. To feel everything you that feel with a mental disorder is entirely all consuming. So, this is why mental disorders lead to addiction people. Did you know it can take years to find the right medication combination to regulate your mood? Years. Not exaggerating. So why would someone wait so many years feeling so exposed and vulnerable when there is instant relief?

As someone who goes through this struggle every day of her life, I can tell you, instant relief is so much more gratifying than dealing with the reality of mental illness.

Another factor is how people and doctors take mental disorders these days, even now. I was hospitalized not once, but twice, in the month of September. Want to know how many doctors took my claim of being suicidal and harming myself seriously? ZERO. Both of them sent me home because I was not “severe enough” to keep overnight. Why should I be to the point of an emotional break and be in a psychotic episode to receive help? Why would I suffer through this alone as opposed to turning to alcohol and other substances for relief?

So next time you see that homeless person who has lost anything and everything that means something to them, think about this. Think about my story and what you’ve read today. Addiction is not simple. It’s so complex and we never even try to understand where they are coming from and what they’ve seen or dealt with. Addiction shows its potential in all of us.

2 Replies to “October – Addiction & Mental Illness”

  1. You said that because you weren’t psychotic or suicidal you weren’t kept overnight in hospital that you didn’t receive help. What were you hoping to gain by a night in hospital. What does hel look like for this life long mental disorder.

    1. I WAS suicidal, and I WAS in a psychotic episode thinking of harming myself and others. But because I was still able to know what day it is and my name and birth date and whatnot, they didn’t think I was severe enough to keep. I guess what I had hoped for was for my claims to be taken seriously and to either get a psych evaluation there or evaluation of my medication, or kept overnight to ensure I did not harm myself or others. I felt that I was completely brushed off.

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