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Tips on how to Help a Loved one with a Dual Diagnosis


drugabuse_istock-57702162-young-woman-upset-with-therapistOn September 12, 2016, I went to listen to former NHL player Clint Malarchuk speak for the World Suicide Prevention Day. He touched on how he would mix his medication with drinking and how it affected his mental illness, himself, his family and his suicidal thoughts.

I do know, from personal experience, how important it is to NOT mix alcohol and drugs or certain medications when you live with a mental illness. My father had a severe back injury, when I was one, and eventually became addicted to the pain medication. His addiction only heightened his manic depression episodes and suicidal tendencies. Further, my boyfriend started drinking and using drugs at a young age due to his panic and anxiety attacks. He found that alcohol and drugs were the easiest way to control and hide his mental illness and live his life. His first suicidal attempt was a result of being put on the wrong medication and almost overdosing on a mixture of street drugs, alcohol, and prescription medications. Years later, he attempted suicide again by overdosing on prescription drugs because he felt trapped and alone. All his life he`s lived with severe OCD, clinical depression and GAD. Here he is, in 2016, clean and sober for over 10 years, on the right medication and has a great support system.

A lot of people who live with mental illness tend to become addicted to either alcohol or drugs because it`s how they suppress and numb the mental illness and how they`re feeling. They may not know what resources and support are out there for them. They may be afraid and ashamed to ask for help.

The best way to help someone is to accept what you can and cannot do. You cannot force someone to stay clean, nor can you make someone take their medication or keep appointments. What you can do is make positive choices for yourself, encourage your loved one to get help, and offer your support while making sure you don’t lose yourself in the process. Below are some tips on how to support a loved one with a dual diagnosis.

1. Seek support. Dealing with a loved one’s dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse can be painful and isolating. Make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need to cope. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through. It can also help to get your own therapy or join a support group.

2. Set boundaries. Be realistic about the amount of care you’re able to provide without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Set limits on disruptive behaviours and stick to them. Letting them take over your life isn’t healthy for you or your loved one.

3. Educate yourself. Learn all you can about your loved one’s mental health problem, as well as substance abuse treatment and recovery. The more you understand what your loved one is going through, the better able you’ll be to support recovery.

4. Be patient. Recovering from a dual diagnosis doesn’t happen overnight. Recovery is an ongoing process that can take months or years, and relapse is common. Ongoing support for both you and your loved one is crucial as you work toward recovery.

By: Anita Levesque

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About Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father - bipolar; brother - PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother - PTSD; boyfriend - clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

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