Okay, I know I’m in trouble with this tip. I know there are some of you out there who are NOT going to like this one at all! Still I have to say it, because it is an issue.
5) Substance Use/Abuse and Mental Illness DO NOT MIX! Now I know in today’s world it is not very popular to be all anti-drug/anti-alcohol, but if you seriously want to survive a mental illness you have to know that you aren’t going to get very far if you are using. Okay, I will go out on a limb and say a glass of wine or a beer or some other drink every now and then won’t kill you…unless you are an alcoholic of course. If you can stop at one drink every six months or so, then I’d say that is fair, but the truth is if you are taking medications of any kind (or if you SHOULD be taking medications of any kind) mixing them with any amount of drugs or alcohol is not a good idea.
Yes, I am a teetotaller! Well, not officially or really. I just know that I can’t be drinking and drugging with the medications I am on. I am kind of fortunate in that I was so young when I became ill (15) I hadn’t yet started drinking or drugging, so I always knew I couldn’t mix my meds with other substances, so that is a road I’ve never gone down. I have had maybe 5 drinks in my entire life and have never smoked pot or done any other kind of drugs (although I did test positive for pot one time when I was in the hospital! How can you possibly fail a pot test when you’ve never smoked it?!?)
I know it is easy for me to sit here and preach a non-substance life, but I know the reality is much much more difficult for a lot of other people. I know, I’ve been in the psych wards and seen 80% of the other patients shuffling off to AA or NA meetings. I know a lot of my cohorts are deep into drugs and/or alcohol and I know a lot of people use it to cope with their mental health issues too. And yes, it is true that a LOT of psych patients and AA/NA members switch and start smoking to compensate.
There’s no easy way for me to break this to you: you can’t be using mind altering substances if you want to survive a mental illness. If you are using or abusing right now, the first step is always admitting to yourself what you are doing and the next step is finding a way to stop. S_T_O_P period. There is no way around it, but there are people who will help you through it.
I have to admit that another reason why I wasn’t drinking at 13 or 14 or something was because I knew that my father’s mother was an alcoholic and other people in my general family background have had problems with alcohol. I can see myself becoming an alcoholic very easily. When I was depressed out of my mind in a meager attempt to feel better I bought a bottle of wine and was going to try getting drunk just once to see if it would stop the pain for awhile, but I couldn’t stand the taste of it and only managed one awful sip of the stuff! Yes, I am that lame that I don’t know how to get drunk and I can’t even stand the taste of alcohol! I never said I was cool! Sometimes when I was depressed I would lay in bed and wonder if it would really feel better to be high on coke than laying in bed feeling miserable, but I never made it past the thinking about it stage. It is probably a good thing I was always alone back then, because I didn’t know anyone who would supply me with drugs or alcohol!
So, I mean, it is really probably luck that I’m not an alcoholic or drug addict of some kind. People often become users and/or abusers BEFORE they even know they have a mental illness. And in some cases, people become mentally ill BECAUSE they have used mind altering substances. Yes, it is true. If you have an unknown predisposition to a disease it may be uncovered during a bad trip or while smoking a drag of pot! Sometimes the substances that are cut with your drug of choice may also be psychotropically activating in some way. It isn’t like the drugs you buy on the street are regulated and inspected by anyone. There could be anything in there!
I’m not trying to get all alarmist and reefer-madness crazy on you, I’m just saying what you already know: drugs and alcohol and mental illness don’t mix. It goes without saying that people can also get hooked on prescription medications. I don’t think people ever really get hooked on things like anti-psychotics or anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, but things like sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, pain pills, etc. People get hooked on that stuff all the time. So, if those are your demons, you are going to have to face up and deal with them or end up dead like Anna Nicole Smith did in a sea of toxicity.
And, no, psych meds are not the same as snorting cocaine or shooting heroin! People like to talk shit about how psych meds are so bad for you and just like you are shooting up, but the truth is they are NOT. Psych meds improve cognitive functioning in the right combinations and doses, they don’t make you high unless you are predisposed to mania and on the wrong medication.
So, yeah, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if you have a severe mental illness getting into drugs and alcohol will only make things 10 times worse and 100 times harder. Having said this, I know there are people out there who will continue to use and abuse. I know some of you can’t stop. But if you are seeing a psychiatrist, at the very least, tell her or him what substances other than your prescribed medications you are doing/taking. If you are being treated for depression and you are drinking all the time and your doctor keeps upping your anti-depressant dosage, it is going to be pointless and dangerous. You need to at the very least be honest with you P-doc. If you are bipolar and you are smoking weed all the time and your doctor is trying to regulate your manic episodes, it is going to be a problem.
Seriously, I don’t know what else to say. If you aren’t doing drugs and/or alcohol: Don’t ever start. And if you are doing drugs and/or alcohol: you have to stop. Sure, maybe it is okay for the rest of the world to go out drinking and drugging all the time, but for those of us with severe mental health issues it is a major problem to add substance abuse to the mix. So, if you can. Just avoid them altogether. It will make your life 1000 times easier if you do. If you are in the midst of it: get help now. The sooner the better. Seriously, you are worth more than your substance abuse will ever let you know or feel.