Connecting the Dots: The Relationship Between Addiction & Mental Health
Though treated for many years as fundamentally separate issues, substance addiction and mental health are now, more than ever, considered inter-related issues. One can take a myriad of pathways to end the iron grip of addiction, while acknowledging the presence of a mental disorder. Some of Oregon’s finest therapists, including Bart Walsh- the pioneer of the Utilization Sobriety approach, explore the connection between mental disorders and addiction.
With continuous research conducted in the field, it is quite difficult to ignore the idea that substance abuse, addiction, and mental health are correlated concerns. Many studies and scholarly articles corroborate what some in the field have long since suspected: there are definite overlaps between mental health issues and substance abuse.
Mental Health & “SUD”
A 2011 SAMHSA report introduced specific facts after surveying Americans exclusively, citing that 18.9 million adults (aged 18 and over) experienced substance use disorder- or “SUD”- in 2011. (SUD is the DSM-V’s version of what constitutes an addiction.) The study presents 41.4 million Americans as having a mental illness in the year prior.
Interestingly, 36.1 percent of Americans with SUD had been diagnosed with a mental illness as well. The report suggests that someone who suffers from SUD is more than twice as likely to have a mental illness. The statistics apply in reverse as well: amongst adults with a mental illness, 16.5 percent have SUD.
Simply put, one can conclude from the SAMHSA survey that treatment for mental health disorders and substance dependency can be consolidated in many instances. As it turns out, this merger creates more benefits than just temporal efficiency. Positive results for both issues increase dramatically across the board when treatment is combined.
Mental health and substance abuse are inextricably linked as they have a profound and reciprocal influence on each other. Effective treatment involves treating the whole person.
Although this may seem rational, in many ways it is revolutionary, a decidedly holistic approach to the mind. As Bart Walsh conveys in his interview with AllTreatment, "Mental health and substance abuse are inextricably linked as they have a profound and reciprocal influence on each other. Effective treatment involves treating the whole person."
Walsh is a pioneer in the field of treating substance dependency and mental health as related causes. He has created an approach known as Utilization Sobriety- a unique technique that is fundamentally simple, drawing on principles of unconscious body responses to stored memories.
In essence, Utilization Sobriety consists of the following steps:
Patient and therapist decide on basic body language- ‘yes’ & ‘no’ indicators such as lifting a certain finger.
Therapist asks patient to recall the optimum high- the best moment/feeling/sensation ever given to them by a drug- and to produce words that describe this sensation.
Therapist asks patient if s/he would enjoy this set of sensations even if it were producible without the drug.
Therapist asks basic yes/no questions about the drug experience previously described, to which patient responds using body language gestures.
Therapist and patient together devise a physical sensation or motion to be associated with the remembrance of this emotion or feeling, e.g. touching ear. This is called the “Benefit State Tool.”
Therapist has patient write a formal goodbye letter to the drug.
Utilization Sobriety is simple, but brilliant, and has been confirmed to yield higher than average results in the treatment of drug abuse. This approach treats substance abuse as a matter more than a set of neurochemical interactions in the brain, but instead as something pertaining to one’s overall desire to better themselves. Utilization Sobriety relies on a concept known as an ideomotor, which involves the association of a concept (idea) with a motion (motor). The goal is to create an unconscious expression, akin to body language or other functions not requiring high-level brain processing.
Thoughts from Oregon Therapists
At its simplest, “Mental health and substance abuse issues often co-occur, as individuals may strive to cope with mental health issues through the use of substances,” asserts Salem-based guidance counselor Allison Bradley. “My role as the mental health counselor is to provide additional support to individuals seeking both mental health and substance abuse treatment.”
Mental health [issues] and substance abuse both deter one from living one’s truth.
In terms of their impact upon the human condition, therapist Ben Luskin of Eugene says, “Mental health [issues] and substance abuse both deter one from living one’s truth. Therefore, work with both is remarkably similar. In both scenarios, the first step is to help one believe in oneself. Once that connection between who one is and who one wants to be is made, the next steps present themselves on their own accord.”
Regarding the overlap of mental health and substance abuse, Portland intimacy coach Anna Marti adds, “The costs to society, family and health are well documented. If someone is willing to be self-reflective, I provide a more holistic orientation.”
Bill Maier, a licensed Portland clinical social worker, reports that chemical dependency, “is one of the unhealthy coping strategies people choose when they’ve experienced a challenging early childhood environment. Most of my patients over the last 28 years have also had problems with chemical dependency, besides anxiety and depression.”
Many of these Oregonian professionals treat patients every day for a wide variety of concerns. Each of them acknowledges the distinct relationship often witnessed between mental health issues and substance abuse.