Addiction is a complicated disease, and coping with the urges and cravings present at any stage of the recovery process is a demanding task. However, addiction is hardly ever isolated. Coping with the mental health side of addiction is necessary to heal the whole self. One's body and mind are both part of the recovery process. Processing feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, and more is just as important as learning to cope with cravings to maintain one's sobriety.
Mental health and addiction share an intimate link with each other. Addressing one side of recovery without including the other can lead to a difficult recovery path ahead.
The Effects of Addiction on Mental Health
Addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or anything else carries an effect on one's mental health. It is a disease that hijacks major parts of one's brain, either by forcing the release of dopamine or tying one's feelings of happiness and safety to specific things.
As the mind becomes accustomed to expecting and believing it needs a certain substance in order to function properly, it can begin to prioritize this substance over all else. Anxieties and panic can set in when such substances are not readily available. One's emotional resiliency can become compromised as their worldview shifts to prioritize and focus on alcohol, drugs, or any other kind of addiction.
Addictive substances also have an even more direct effect on the brain, with drugs and alcohol directly impacting and impeding regular brain function. While this high or buzz may feel good in the moment, it leaves the body desperately trying to regulate itself and get back to a point of homeostasis.
The chemicals an individual is introducing to the brain can deteriorate their emotional resiliency. This can create feelings of desperation, anxiety, panic, depression, and compromise the ability to rationalize and process stressors.
Mental Health as a Catalyst for Addiction
It is also possible that an individual may suffer from a mental health disorder first before turning to drugs or alcohol as a reaction to one's volatile emotional state. Pervasive feelings of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and many other mental health disorders are all incredibly difficult to process.
Those suffering from mental health disorders may turn to addictive substances not out of malintent. Rather, they do so as a desperate attempt to placate their minds and create a moment of respite from such uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
However, this can create a very dangerous precedent for those suffering from these disorders. Not only does this action create a dangerously positive view of addictive substances, but it also overlooks the long-term effects of these substances. These immediate perceived benefits then introduce new hurdles for one's health down the line.
The Cyclic Nature of Addiction and Mental Health
As addiction can birth mental health concerns, and mental health disorders can be closely tied to the use of addictive substances, these two elements can create a very dangerous cycle. For example, an individual may feel anxious and begin to drink as a way to self-medicate. Unfortunately, once the buzz wears off, feelings of anxiety, guilt, or depression can resurface as a result of one's actions. This then promotes the use of these substances again and again as the cycle continues.
Recovery is a complicated effort largely because it is never centralized on a single aspect of one's life. Overcoming addiction means addressing the effects that these substances have had on one's mental health while also tackling mental health disorders.
This means each individual must acknowledge any and all unhealthy coping strategies that may have developed in an attempt to self-medicate their complex emotional state. Healing the whole self is the best way to ensure that an individual is not only educated about their situation but also understands the necessary changes that need to be made for an effective recovery.
Moving Towards Transformation
Simply managing the symptoms of mental health disorders or addiction without addressing the relationship the two may share can leave an individual ill-prepared to maintain the changes made in recovery. As an individual may learn grounding strategies for coping with urges, if they are not equally prepared to face feelings of anxiety and depression, the mind's first notion may still be to use addictive substances. Relapse is a constant threat in recovery, and while it can be overcome, effective relapse prevention strategies focus on addressing the whole self.
Recovery is a journey not about just learning to put down a drink. Rather, it is an effort to change one's entire self – one's perspective, thoughts, behaviors, and future to better pursue their personal goals and priorities. Tackling mental health and addiction in tandem creates the most informed, personalized approach for each individual's transformation. Embracing the need to heal the whole self is the first step towards this profound future.