When brought face to face with a significantly damaging or incapacitating disorder, a person can succumb to a number of possible pitfalls. One particular trap is the act of self-medication or the decision to use a substance in order to lessen one’s symptoms. This can involve the misuse or abuse of prescription drug such as a benzodiazepine meant to help ease the symptoms of anxiety or it can extend to include the use and abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine.
In many cases of treatment, medication may be too heavily relied upon. In fact, prescription drug abuse and addiction has been at a record high over recent years, increasing by an estimated 400 percent in the United States (Pratt et. al. 2011). While this treatment method can be effective, chemical dependency is a dangerous phenomenon that affects individuals in even the most secure settings.
Overall, the decision to abuse either recreational or prescribed medications is due to a lack of effective coping strategies. The pains associated with many mental illnesses can be extremely distressful. When these problems are chronic, the discomfort can seem constant at which point it would be necessary to seek professional help, get an official diagnosis and receive an effective combination of treatments. Sadly, a substantial fraction of people do not follow these actions and instead turn to illicit drugs and abuse certain medications. The reasons for doing so can range from an external lack of available resources to an internal lack of healthy decision-making. Regardless, a need for increased education regarding more recommended treatment strategies is required.
Therapy is highly correlated with treatment success. Rather than suppressing dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and behaviors with a medication, an individual can discuss their issues and receive quality feedback (National Alliance on Mental Illness). This is an irreplaceable tool that helps people establish a productive mindset, build healthy social skills and maintain stable emotional states. Most of all, these recovery tools are necessary for strengthening a person’s coping mechanisms so that additional problems or conditions, such as a substance addiction, do not develop (Mayo Clinic). Many specific skills can be learned in order to better address and deal with one’s own mental disorder. They include:
- Meditation and relaxation techniques: Practicing deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation or many other therapeutic rituals can aid in the reduction of stress and induce relaxation.
- Self-talk: Reframing negativities in a different perspective can gradually rewire negative patterns of cognition. Best of all, it can be practiced at any time and is a daily resource for continued recovery.
- Staying connected: Personal support systems are critical in preventing a disorder from snowballing. These can be found through family, friends or connection made at support groups like AA or NA
- Write in a journal: Writing down personal thoughts can help those afflicted trace and identify what improves or worsens their conditions. It is also an important tool for expression which can prevent repression.
- Have uninterrupted personal time: Setting aside a period of reflection each day is important for people to be able to separate themselves from external stressors
- Set a progressive and healthy schedule: Filling days with productive activities to relieve stress and boost self-esteem while also maintaining a decent amount of sleep to stay rested can benefit both physical and mental health
When an individual with a mental condition develops a drug addiction, the person is classified as having co-occurring disorders and the treatment and recovery process becomes much more complex and difficult. This is mainly because of the destructive cycle of effects that drives both sides of the overall dysfunction. If only the drug addiction is treated, withdrawal from the substance may aggravate the existing mental disorder and increase the need for the drug. On the other hand, if only the mental disorder is addressed, the side-effects of an underlying addiction may prevent the disorder from being completely remedied. For truly effective treatment, all existing psychological issues and dependencies must be identified and treated concurrently.
Dual diagnosis programs increase recovery success by utilizing an extensive series of steps. This can include rapid and natural detoxification that allows a person to endure withdrawal easier and continued rehabilitative services, such as psychotherapy, scheduled support groups and other goal-oriented self-management programs.
For a variety of at-risk or underserved populations, the first obstacle to overcome is getting connected with openly available and evidence-based treatment programs. For more information regarding locations that specialize in treating mental disorders, drug addiction or both, please contact the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline by chatting with a representative online or calling us at 855-980-1736.