If you’ve ever felt that a substance is taking over your life, you may have felt the need to hide away and ignore what is happening. Addiction and other mental health conditions thrive when they are able to isolate a person, and experts know that one of the best ways to prevent the situation from deteriorating to suicide or accidental overdose is to build a supportive community around individuals. Support information may not seem widely accessible, but please know that if you are struggling, there is so much help available to you. Just taking the first and most important step of reaching out for that help really is half the battle.
To help make that leap easier, we will explain the relationship between mental health and addiction, why addiction is not the end of the road, and list the caring communities you can turn to when you need support.
How are mental health and addiction connected?
Society is making huge progress in understanding that mental health issues are just as real and debilitating as physical illnesses and injuries. Previously, mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder were widely recognised as being serious conditions, but they were heavily stigmatised, while common issues like depression, stress and anxiety were often considered to be just in a person’s head or even a sign of weakness. This attitude meant that many people were afraid of getting the help they so badly needed, and sadly this would sometimes result in tragedies like overdoses and suicides. Fortunately, addiction is now widely regarded to be both a cause and a symptom of mental health difficulties, and this recognition has made treatment far more effective and accessible.
What are the common themes shared by addiction and other mental health issues?
Both addiction and mental health conditions can cause a person to feel like they are no longer in control of their life. For example, many people with drug and alcohol addiction spend huge amounts of time, money and energy feeding their addiction which steals time away from family, work or self-love. Similarly, people with depression, social anxiety and chronic stress often have troubles in their relationships, jobs and self-care.
Both can also have a major negative effect on self-esteem, social skills and confidence. This can be a daily struggle with no respite from these negative thoughts and feelings and can cause a person to feel like they can’t live with themselves anymore. Relationships with loved ones, often already strained by changes in behaviour that are symptoms of addiction and mental health difficulties, can break down entirely, and this can lead you to feel more and more isolated, which can have tragic results.
How do mental health and addiction affect each other?
Many people who have serious mental health conditions are more likely to develop an addiction. Drugs and alcohol can be a way of self-medicating in order to escape from their symptoms, block out negative thoughts and cope with difficult moments in their lives. Yet, addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol actually have the opposite effect. These drugs can cause chemical imbalances in the brain. Alongside the negative effects that addiction can have on relationships, jobs and finances, both of these side-effects can lead to depression. This worsening situation will often cause someone to use even more drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, making them feel as if there is no way out.
Another increasing concern is the link between cannabis and schizophrenia. While schizophrenia has a diverse range of biological and environmental factors, scientific consensus agrees that cannabis is now a common aggravating factor. As global cannabis use increases, with many countries even going so far as to legalise it entirely, you may believe cannabis to be healthy – yet the rates of schizophrenia are likewise set to rise. Legalisation has enabled producers to create increasingly potent strains of cannabis, far stronger than anything which is found naturally. Scientific study is way behind on truly understanding the effects these strains may have on people’s mental health, but many experts are deeply worried.
How can addiction be overcome?
The first thing that anyone who is struggling needs to do is acknowledge the problem and be open about it with others. If you have an addiction or mental health issue, there’s no need to feel ashamed to talk about what’s going on in your life or seek help. In fact, opening up about how you’re feeling and learning from other people in similar situations is the best way to achieve long-term recovery.
No two people are the same, and everyone has their own contributing factors for addiction. As a result, the most effective way to overcome it also varies from person to person. For some, a change in lifestyle, diet, or the people they surround themselves with can be just what is needed to break out of an unhealthy cycle of habits. For others, comprehensive detox and rehab may be needed to overcome a severe and long-standing addiction.
Whatever your situation, you never have to face this struggle alone. The most important thing is to acknowledge that there is an issue and commit to making a change.
How can overcoming an addiction transform your life?
Every aspect of your life can advance when you take steps to overcome an addiction. Your physical, mental and emotional health can markedly improve; you can begin to rebuild relationships, put yourself in a better financial position, and perhaps most importantly, begin to appreciate your own value again. Addiction can be like a weight on your back, constantly dragging you down, and can damage relationships. You may find it hard to believe, but the sense of relief you will experience when you finally cast that weight off can be incredibly liberating. All it takes is the will to make a change.
How can you ask for help?
For many people, the scariest part of all is reaching out and asking for help. It takes a huge amount of courage to acknowledge an addiction, and even more so to confide it in someone else. However, whether you speak to a family member, a friend, or an addiction professional, a problem shared really is a problem halved. Sit down with a loved one or someone you trust and tell them the effect that drug or alcohol abuse is having on your life. They may be able to provide the emotional and moral support you need to get started on your road to recovery and build a life worth living.
If you are worried about confiding in a loved one or you want to keep the matter private for now, speak to your GP about how you are feeling or reach out to our team at UKAT, who will be able to advise you every step of the way. You can also reach out to your local support group, whose members understand exactly what you are going through and will share their own journeys. Remember that addiction thrives when it manages to isolate you. With so much help available, nobody ever needs to struggle alone, and there is happiness waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.