Mental Illness and Substance Abuse: Far Too Commonly Connected

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in the U.S. recognizes April as Alcohol Awareness Month.

In Canada, the need to educate and inform around alcohol dependence also exists, including in the area of mental health care.

According to Statistics Canada, 20 per cent of people living with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use problem, with alcohol being the most popular substance of choice.

I easily identify with these facts.

I was struggling with an eating disorder in university and spent days relentlessly bingeing and purging. By the evenings, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained.

I coped by using alcohol.

My housemate would come home from class to find me drunk and dancing alone in the living room. Drinking for me was a way to escape myself. I was so ashamed of who I had become, how I had let my life unravel so badly.

I often felt empty at times. I had no idea what was missing in my life but I felt like there had to be something more to life than what I had. Drinking helped me fill the emptiness. When I was drunk I was no longer the screwed-up Tara. When I was drinking, I was different.

Thankfully, my story doesn’t have a tragic ending.

Eventually, I received the treatment and care I needed to cope and manage my mental illness and substance abuse.

At Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Science (Ontario Shores), there are patients on a similar path, dealing with mental illness and substance abuse.

Recovery is a tough road, but as their healthcare team, we provide support and care as they begin their journey toward wellness.

As a former mental health patient I understand the importance of small, but well-earned privileges. Walks along the path and trips to the shops and businesses just north of Ontario Shores are popular destinations with many of our patients.

With these walks and privileges comes temptation for those struggling with substance abuse and still becoming comfortable with the issue of sobriety.

“It’s been 30 days since my last drink,” is a phrase we often hear in the hospital.

In reality, for many it has been 30 days of the patient being cared for, treated and supported without access to alcohol.

At Ontario Shores, we recognize that recovery does not end at discharge. The ability for patients to manage their illness and addiction, and continue to make healthy choices is a process that often requires additional and ongoing support.

I felt compelled to discuss this issue in my blog this month as it is a topic that touches me personally, and inspires me to share my story and pass along helpful resources. Below are some links to organizations which assist people in the community struggling with substance abuse. These organizations can also offer education and support to loved ones looking to support someone in sobriety and assist them in sustaining a healthy lifestyle.