You Are Not Alone: Mental Heath Awareness Month (May 1-31)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that dealing with the Covid pandemic and separating from others can increase stress and anxiety. The CDC reports that 1 in 4 have depression.  With reduced income, isolation, this can be particularly difficult for those with substance abuse disorders who need the fellowship of like-minded people for encouragement and support.

“With nowhere to turn, literally, people started turning to substances they could use in the privacy of their homes,” says Dr. Hafeez, Psy.D., a New York City based clinical psychologist. “With little accountability, people would have Zoom happy hours, and post them frequently on social media. Some were spiraling dangerously.”

Dr. Hafeez, Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C., a neuropsychological, developmental and educational Center in Manhattan and Queens, says “I was fielding calls left with my answering service about critical situations revolving around spouses who were afraid to call 911 on their partners for fear of letting COVID into their homes or infecting their spouse by sending them to jail.  With excessive alcohol/drug use, violence escalated in the homes.  With schools and the outside world, suddenly gone, parents were suddenly dealing with teenage or older children abusing substances.”

Statistics for Alcohol Sales

With alcohol alone, did you know that during the pandemic:

  • Heavy drinking increased by 41%, according to the Journal of The American Medical Association Study.
  • According to Nielsen, during the week ending 3-21-20, there was a 54% increase in alcohol sales during the same week in 2019.
  • Online sales during the same period jumped 262% from 2019.

Lack of Statistics for Other Drugs

Comments, Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a New York City based clinical psychologist, “statistics would have been observed for drugs if there were a way to track those sales as well.  Persons who were abusing or excessively using these substances were not new to them.  They had likely been coping with life stressors in the same way, but more monitored by life’s buffers such as having to report to work, not smell/look inebriated, and other obligations conveniently removed by the pandemic.”

The Pandemic May Abate, but what about The Substance Abuse Disorders?

Drug Abuse.gov says that a person with an anxiety disorder is twice as likely as an average person to develop an addiction of some sort. A person with just one disorder will automatically have more stress and fewer coping abilities.  Their treatment for both the mental health disorder and the addiction should be treated simultaneously. Yet, less than 10% of those with addiction, estimated at 40 million adults and teens in the U.S., will seek treatment.

Which comes first, the addiction or what modern mental health professionals call “the co-     occurring disorder” (formerly labelled “co-morbidity or “dual diagnosis”) According to The Sober World, a 2018 study found that 48% of American adults who have one disorder have at least one other psychiatric disorder. You don’t just treat addiction, you end up treating anxiety, depression…

What are Co-Occurring Disorders? The More Common Ones are:

  • PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Personality Disorders such as Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, OCD
  • ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

Is Addiction A Disease?

Many researchers today believe addiction is a life-long disease like diabetes or asthma.  It is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition as a disease.  It is NOT a moral failure nor represents a lack of willpower.

It is an equal opportunity Disease.  It doesn’t care how old you are, whether you’re female or male, rich or poor, a person of color or a white suprematist.

Is Addiction Inherited?

Factors that cause the Disease:

  • Genetics play a 40 to 60% risk for addiction.
  • Environmental: Chaotic home environment, abuse.
  • Peer and community influencers
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Neurochemical imbalances

Source:  https://www.americanaddictioncenters.org.rehab-guide/addiction-statistics, edited April 7, 2021 by Editorial Statistics

Although there is no “cure” for addiction, with expert medical management and a commitment to life-long support, recovery is possible.  It is a highly treatable disease, although the relapse rate is 40 to 60%.  It’s easier to stay sober when your prefrontal cortex is fully developed and able to make rational decisions (usually in your twenties as opposed to your teens).

Why Is There An Upswing in Overdoses?

  • The deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl that is mixed with other drugs unbeknownst to the buyer.
  • Not everyone living with a person with substance use disorder has “Narcan” that reverses opioid overdoses.
  • Deaths linked to psychostimulants such as methamphetamines have increased by 35% due to depression.

Did you know that:

  • 22 million Americans are currently suffering from substance use disorders.
  • 23 million others are living in recovery.
  • When you include families of afflicted, addiction impacts over 85 million people!

Rather than having unhealthy coping mechanisms and self-medicating with illicit drugs, Dr. Hafeez, a teaching faculty member of Columbia University Teachers College, recommends “accepting mental health and substance abuse as part of your community, family, and world closer than you would like, is not easy, but a necessity.  Like Covid, you don’t realize how critical it is to take depression, bipolar disorder or alcoholism seriously until it happens to you or a loved one.  Addressing the stigma and offering support to someone hiding their problems in pain and shame, can make a much bigger difference than most of us realize.”

Those with substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions can always find support in these organizations, among others, and not just in May.

The Mental Health Awareness Month contains 362 personal stories from real people experiencing mental health conditions. Among helpful organizations, it suggests:

  • NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness). Helpline:  800-950-NAMI or in a crisis, text NAMI to 741741.
  • Bring Change to Mind, a non-profit organization founded by actress and activist Glenn Close. It’s dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination about mental health.  If you need to talk, please contact Crisis Text Line by texting “BC2M to 741741.
Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.

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