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  • Kim Holland, APRN-CNP

CAN ADDICTION AND MENTAL ILLNESS BE SEPARATED?

“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behavior.” Gabor Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

For many years, helping people in addiction has been focused on just stop using the substance. The belief was that if you could just stop people from using drugs or alcohol, then all the problems in the person with addictions life would just magically disappear and in time they would be whole again.


Well, there is some truth to that, but also some myth. Behind every addiction, there is suffering. I have been working with people struggling with substance use for over 30 years now. How long people have struggled and their stories of how the addiction began are all unique.


The common thread to all stories of addiction is suffering. There is suffering from loss, guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, and even resentment. There is also suffering attached to all the people that love and have loved this individual, and whose trust may have been broken.

Many times in treating addiction, we find the person has been suffering from a mental health issue for years, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety that has been covered by the addiction. When these patients become sober, they still must face and work on strategies to manage the mental illness or the addiction will only return to numb the pain and suffering of the mental illness. This is the problem…getting drunk or high works. Maybe only short-term, but it does give relief and numbs the issue at the moment. If the root is not engaged, the desire to numb or get relief in unhealthy ways will reoccur.


A quick example for most of us is food. We all have times when we do better, get on a healthy diet, we exercise, and feel great. But, if we get put under the right stress or have not managed the reason we gained the weight in the first place, unfortunately, the weight will return.


There is no dispute. Long-term alcohol and substance usage can cause many mental health disorders, changes the chemistry of our brains, and can have devastating effects, many irreversible. So the knife of addiction cuts both ways. Both bring suffering… a lot of suffering.


If you are struggling with addiction, there is hope. There is hope not only in getting sober but also in addressing the pain that created the addiction in the first place. With work, you can lead a mentally and physically healthy life again.


If you have someone living in addiction that is close to you, there is always hope. As someone who loves them, set boundaries and remind them frequently that you see their pain.


If you are ready to make a change. Duncan Regional is here to help. Call our addiction outpatient program at 580-251-6822 and ask for an appointment with our physician in addictionology Dr. Dan Criswell.



Kim Holland, APRN -CNP

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