It’s something no one wants to hear. Yet, some people must hear it (and come to terms with it if they want to get better), all the same. Dual diagnosis. As if being addicted to drugs or alcohol, or having a mental disorder wasn’t bad enough, some people are lucky enough to have to deal with both. Of course, there is a solution (or it wouldn’t exactly be a good blog topic).
What makes dual diagnosis situations so sticky is that one disorder tends to feed into the other. Obviously, drug and alcohol addiction, and all the poor lifestyle choices that tend to go along with it, do not create a good environment for mental health. Existing mental health symptoms are exacerbated—and sometimes new ones are even created by the stress addiction puts on you. And of course, people turn to what they know will make them feel better—drugs and alcohol. So, the addiction gets worse and the cycle continues. I’ve been there myself, and at the time, it seemed like I would never be able to escape it.
But I managed to break out, or I wouldn’t be sitting here, writing about recovery (obviously). I guess you could say I got lucky when it came to my recovery. During my active addiction, I got pretty close to getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Of course, what I wasn’t telling my doctor was how big of a role uppers and downers were playing in my ups and downs. I ended up on some very strong medications that probably didn’t do me any favors on top of all the drugs I was doing on the side.
When I finally decided to get serious about recovery and go to treatment, I was able to experience life without drugs for the first time in many years, and something really interesting happened. A lot of my symptoms started to clear up. It turns out, I didn’t have bipolar disorder after all. I didn’t totally get off the hook, though. I did get diagnosed with an anxiety problem, which I’m still dealing with to this day (successfully, in case you were wondering).
But treatment gave me a solid foundation and the necessary tools to continue recovery on my own. Turns out, that’s all I really needed. Sobriety alone made a lot of my problems clear up, and most of the rest of them were handled through living a healthy lifestyle, working a recovery program, and spending my time around a community of positive people.
But I’m not ashamed to admit that I sought out professional help, even after I was sober. For a time, I was seeing a counselor once a week, and I got a prescription for antidepressants and to help me sleep at night. I’ve managed to build a solid enough foundation that I don’t need to see the counselor these days, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I felt like I needed it. And I still take my prescription. Turns out, when you’re honest with your doctor and take it as directed, there’s nothing wrong with that. I have to laugh at the “Big Book thumpers” who think that the AA program is the only acceptable solution to all life’s issues. Don’t get me wrong, my AA meeting is one of the most important things I do each week, but I’m not afraid to seek out the appropriate treatment for the things I’m struggling with.