People speak about the mental health issues surrounding addiction with delicacy, deference, and perhaps a little bit of cowardice. Mental health isn’t just an issue, it’s the only issue. A person can lose both legs below the knee, and if they’re okay with it, then it’s okay. By the same token, a person can be sitting on top of the world, and if they aren’t happy inside themselves, then it will mean nothing. This cannot be stressed enough; mental health is the only issue. Even with the most addictive drugs, such as alcohol and opiates, where there are real and undeniable physiological effects to the addiction, the mental health of the addicted individual is the first, last, and only priority. “Dual diagnosis” is not in any way extraordinary, because the disease of addiction finds its roots in the underlying mental conditions that seek out such self-destructive behavior. Mental health is fundamental, it is foundational, and no progress is possible without it. Mental health is the only issue.
For something so critical, it is shocking how little we know about mental health. Even to this day, we are unable to reproducibly identify the physiological basis for mental health issues. There are a few tests that can be done in a laboratory that will imply certain things about the mental status of the individual tested; malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and sleep deficiencies are all known to play major parts. Stress is also a factor, although that which I constitute unbearable stress for one individual will be the same as a perfectly normal or even enjoyable for another. There is simply an enormous amount of variance in the human organism. So, when addressing issues of mental health, it is essential to tailor one’s approach to the exact individual in question.
There are a few universals. As mentioned before, healthy and regular sleep is important too consistent mental functioning. Sleep requirements vary widely based on age, gender, and physical status, but the best idea is to find what is right for you and add an hour a day. Americans are chronically overworked and running on a serious sleep deficit, so it is important to follow the body’s own natural inclinations instead of the demands of the people and society around you. After all, they are part of why you got into trouble in the first place. Healthy diet and nutrition are also essential. It is simply astounding how many cases of apparent mental aberrancy and addiction are caused by a lack of some basic nutrient or vitamin. Avoid preservatives and highly processed foods, avoid sugar, eschew caffeine, and concentrate on a simple, healthy, predictable diet. Many people going through addiction treatment will find tremendous solace in the regularity and rituals of mealtime.
The importance of healthy exercise cannot be overstated. Exercise is available to all, and it does not have to cost a dime. Many high-priced treatment programs dabble in things such as equine therapy, aqua-therapy, cardio-therapy, and etcetera. Those are all great programs, but those are all just euphemisms for healthy exercise. The patient should simply find the type of physical activity that is the most condign to them and pursue that program with regularity. The endorphins and other pleasurable brain chemicals that come with healthy exercise are well known to all, but the real benefit comes from a strong and fully functioning physiological system. The heart pumps better, the blood is cleaner, toxins are purged from the system, and the patient simply feels better all around. There is less temptation to relapse when one feels good.
Finally, the importance of self-care and community must not be overlooked. It is difficult to help someone else to a good mental place when the helper themselves is upset, frustrated, exhausted and disturbed. Just as it is easier to save a drowning person from the shore, it is much easier to help an addict from a place of security, stability, and mental health. Therefore, it is essential for all people involved to care for their own mental state and to refuse to allow the situation to cast them into depression or despair. If an individual, even a profoundly beloved and deeply cherished as a friend or loved one, is having negative effects on the treatment and its outcome, then it is appropriate to politely but firmly discuss helping them to step back from the situation. If an individual is too stressed out and frustrated to go on, and they recognize that of themselves, then they too will be of more service by stepping back. Mental health is a community phenomenon and a community effort. In fact, addiction recovery is the process of returning an individual who has been impaired by overuse of intoxicants to full function within the community. Addiction recovery is a process of restoration of mental health, and it begins and ends within the mind of the recovering addict. If you or a loved one are struggling with mental help and/or addiction, contact us today.