Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jan 2005
Source: Duncan News Leader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Duncan News Leader
Author: Angie Poss
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Unraveling the maze of addiction cannot be done without a hard look at
the reasons why someone turned to substance abuse in the first place,
believes Margaret Hess of the Canadian Mental Health Association. "Out
of everyone with addictions problems, roughly 50 per cent have mental
health issues and are self-medicating," said Hess.

Drug use can promote a feeling of power, control and survival - all
feelings that are hard to come by naturally for those dealing with an
undiagnosed mental illness.

But most people aren't aware of why they are self-medicating, said

"You just want things to go well, be comfortable, feel good," she
said. "You talk to some young people who say 'I feel kind of upset but
when I take this, I feel better'. But what comes next?"

While the original mental illness goes untreated, drug use can layer
brain damage and psychotic breaks on top.

For example, a crystal meth user's cycle of binge and crash -
sometimes days without sleep or food - ravages the body and the mind
while the toxins in the drug can lead to brain damage. It also causes
chemically induced mental conditions like depression and a
paranoid-schizophrenic state doctors and counselors fear may be permanent.

For those who turned to drugs for reasons other than self-medication,
the drug and alcohol abuse can lead to mental health issues because of
the high-risk behaviour that often happens when people are high or
stoned, said Hess.

People detox only to find they have to deal with the emotional and
physical consequences of things that happened while they were high -
unprotected sex with multiple partners, violence, theft, rape and an
endless list of other possibilities.

For anyone struggling with mental illness those consequences can be
too much to bear.

According to a 2002 study by Statistics Canada, more than a quarter of
people who were dependent on drugs had a major depressive episode in
the previous year.

There are also developmental delays in people who began using at a
young age, said Sandra Goth, the executive director of Cowichan Family

While the organization doesn't specifically deal with substance abuse,
it runs a variety of other counselling and support programs whose
clients are often picking up the pieces after their substance abuse,
or that of loved ones.

She has seen clients become stuck, emotionally, at the age when they
began using.

"You can imagine what the world is like for a 50-year-old woman who is
stuck mentally at 13, and what the world expects of you," said Goth.

The relationship between the substance abuse and mental illness is
both physical and emotional, tightening the weave and making treatment
a complex strategy of medical and emotional support.

In the end, solving the challenge of addiction will take more than
good will, more even than hard work and a sense of community, believes

"We have the ability to change things. We have the ability to make
things better. We have to make use of our resources and each other to
help make things better. How do we get everyone together to do
something? I don't know."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin