Although I have never suffered from a drug or alcohol addiction, during my episode of depression I often turned to the principles of the recovery movement and the 12 Steps of AA as a source of healing and spiritual inspiration. This was no accident, for I now see a direct correlation between recovery from alcoholism/addiction and recovery from mental illness.
To begin with, a substantial number of people with mental illness also suffer from drug and/or alcohol abuse. While13.5 percent of the general population suffers from alcoholism, 22.3 percent suffer from both alcoholism and psychiatric disorders. One reason for this relationship is that many people with anxiety and depression turn to alcohol and drugs to alleviate their pain and lift their mood.
For example, I’ll never forget the moment in one of my support group members said that she had smoked pot every day for the past three years because she was anxious and couldn’t get to sleep. Another bipolar member said he used methamphetamine because it took him out of his depression and gave him energy. And a young friend tells me that he smokes marijuana because his ADD mind is going at 1,000 miles an hour and pot helps him to slow down.
This is how their addictions started, as an attempt to self-medicate. As a recovery counselor told me, “the dis-ease of anxiety or depression can make one vulnerable to the disease of addiction.” In fact, the parallels between the two conditions are so great that some researchers see them as underlying aspects of the same disorder.
Fortunately, because addiction and mood disorders are interconnected, they can be treated using similar modalities. In her book Potatoes Not Prozac, psychologist and recovering sugar addict Kathleen DesMaisons shares her discovery that the same diet that she developed to prevent relapse into alcoholism also works to heal depression and mood swings. This nutritional program eliminates simple sugars from the diet and recommends three meals a day, spaced no more than five hours apart, each with a serving of protein the “size of one’s fist.” This allows the body to metabolize sugars more slowly, eliminating sugar cravings and producing a more even mood throughout the day. Read more...