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    The Confusing Connection Between Addiction & Mental Health

    By Dr. Trupti Patel and Dr. Beth West  

    It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Our team at Maryhaven sees this as an opportunity to educate clients, loved ones and community members about the clear and yet confusing connections between mental health and addiction.

    At first, it seems deceivingly simple. Addiction is a specific mental health disorder. You can find it described and catalogued in the reference work used by all clinicians, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

    Further, it has been proven that addiction often occurs alongside other issues, such as depression or anxiety. About half of people who suffer from addiction also labor with what we call a co-occurring disorder.

    It’s the cause/effect diagnosis that can be incredibly difficult to untangle. Did someone with a mental health concern self-medicate to cope with it? Or did someone become mentally ill as result of overusing alcohol, drugs, or excessive gambling?

    This sometimes unresolvable “chicken or egg” conundrum confronts our staff every day. We respond by focusing first on helping people stabilize through detox. This step should always be primary, because the more clear-minded and comfortable our clients are, the greater our ability to secure additional information to inform long-term treatment.

    Our team believes in compassionate care through all stages of recovery, but especially during detox. Withdrawal can be dangerous, even life-threatening when dealing with alcohol use disorder. We can reduce the physical health threat and make the process more comfortable with appropriate medications. A respectful, empathetic approach not only better serves the client’s initial needs – it’s also more likely to keep them in treatment for a longer period of time.

    Extensive patient history helps determine the type of medication and therapy most likely to lead to long-term success. But documenting history can be challenging. Issues like chronic depressive disorder may never have been diagnosed or treated. Or someone may be experiencing temporary symptoms of mental illness induced by their substance of choice, symptoms that will fade as the substance is eliminated from his or her system. Sometimes a client may have chronic physical health concerns like diabetes or high blood pressure. The medications that treat those diseases may interfere or cause reactions with mental health medications, requiring our team to carefully customize and monitor dosages and all prescriptions.

    It can take a great deal of time and therapeutic intervention to identify the exact nature of an underlying mental disorder. It may have been undiagnosed for many years and seem “normal” to a client who doesn’t know that life could be experienced any other way. Further, people may express brain disorders differently. For example, women with ADHD daydream and procrastinate, a stark contrast to men who constantly engage in frantic behavior.

    Taking all these factors into account leads us to the importance of a carefully monitored detox process that safeguards physical health and stability and enhances the client’s ability to fully participate in therapeutic treatment. People can’t learn new coping skills for anxiety, for example, if they’re severely physically uncomfortable from withdrawal or are experiencing seemingly overwhelming cravings to use their substance of choice.

    People with addiction and mental health disorders need new coping skills to stay healthy and successful. Even longer-term medications that help restore normal brain function, such as methadone or suboxone, are not more important than the client’s willingness to actively engage in his or her recovery.

    Other practices also can help, such as yoga, meditation, or mindfulness. Maryhaven’s team encourages people to join in these activities as soon as they enter residential treatment. These practices can calm anxiety, overcome depression, and even help the brain restore itself.

    We can’t overemphasize enough how clients need to commit and recommit to recovery every day. Not long ago, we started treating someone who was 60 years old. She had been sober for 37 years. Then, a few years ago, she relapsed and began using alcohol again. Treatment works if you actively work for it every day. We often compare it to riding a bike. The bike moves forward if you pedal, but if you coast for an extended period of time, it falls.

    Regardless of how long the journey takes and what must be done to stay on track, we hope people start immediately and holistically. That’s why Maryhaven offers 24/7 access to detox at our walk-in center at 1430 South High Street. Addiction and mental health may connect in complex ways, but the first step toward recovery is clear.

    Also, we extend a special shout out to partner Orange Barrel Media for providing kiosks throughout the community to remind people that help is always available — see images above.