Head in the clouds: Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

December 6, 2016 by dccinc

Waiting for the kick. Then the ecstasy and peace that follows. The way the world melts away and chest bones become light and hollow. Addiction is a toxic, paralyzing love affair. When one is labelled an addict that becomes the whole of their identity and existence.

Can Addiction be considered a Mental Illness?

The stamp of addiction is truly debilitating as it invalidates everything that sparked and contributed to the breaking point. Addiction rarely stands on its own, it’s often the ugly manifesto of deeper, unresolved mental illness. Alcohol and drug abuse commonly stem from untreated depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unsurprisingly, those that suffer such mental illnesses, seek escape and solace from their reality. In giving up control through alcohol and drug abuse, they are able to accept the loss of control resulting in mental stasis and relief. Addiction is, ironically, a method of self-rehabilitation.

Perhaps the bitterest irony is how addiction mirrors rehabilitation. Those who suffer from addiction experience permanent changes in behaviour, attitude and thought much like those in addiction rehabilitation – it is a 180 degree change in the wrong direction. Indeed, consistent alcohol and drug abuse can result in irrevocable damage in mental and physical capability. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that long-term drug taking “can eventually lead to profound changes in neurons and brain circuits, with the potential to severely compromise the long-term health of the brain… can cause impairment in cognitive function.” Additional research published in Clinical EEG and Neuroscience journal further supports the claim stating: “substance users show abnormalities on measures of brain functioning, which is linked to changes in nonrecognition over time.  Abnormalities have been seen in brain structure volume, which matter quality, and activation to cognitive tasks.”

According to the World Health Organization, “Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure”. Those suffering with alcohol and drug abuse are struggling with long-term cognitive and learning disabilities. Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not a choice, it is not a silly late night desire to feel good. Addiction is the loss of control over one’s behaviour and thoughts, it could even be classified as a degenerative brain disease if not a mental illness.

Should one ever be doubtful of the serious implications and disabling nature of addiction, witnessing the slow, painful process of addiction rehabilitation is enough to garner a change of perspective. The symptoms of withdrawal is a powerful testimony to the utter helplessness of the addicted individual to the wrath of addiction. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, racing heart and sweating are merely the beginning. Severe emotional and mental reparations such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor concentration and social isolation are highly common and difficult to overcome. Withdrawal can even take a dangerous turn to include grand mal seizures, heart attacks, strokes, hallucinations and delirium tremens (DTs). Clearly, those with addiction have as much control over their alcohol and drug abuse as they do their damning symptoms of withdrawal.

Even if one refuses to acknowledge addiction as a disability, it is well documented that those who suffer from addiction are treated no better than those with disabilities and/or mental illness. People who suffer from addiction face enormous social stigma. Individuals with a history of alcohol and drug abuse are commonly rejected by employers, denied access to various facilities and generally excluded from social housing services. Since addiction is an invisible and episodic disability, ensuring unwavering equal treatment is challenging. Relapses, no matter how short lived and infrequent, become grounds for immediate termination and discrimination. Consistently ostracized, those suffering from alcohol and drug abuse rarely seek addiction rehabilitation for fear of revealing their personal demons.

Nonetheless, addiction rehabilitation seems like the only logical solution. Addiction rehabilitation in reality however, presents many hurdles of various difficulty and complexity. With outpatient counselling programs ranging from $50 to $200 per hour in simple cases, the cost of addiction rehabilitation only skyrockets from there. Inpatient addiction rehabilitation in well-known centres can reach steep costs of up to $65,000 in treatment fees. Even if one was to forgo the lengthy stay, the prices remain formidable. An investigation in Financial Post reports that “Bellwood Health Services in Toronto is $17,339 for a 4.5-week program (this includes family programming and one-year of aftercare for patients). Homewood Health Centre in Guelph costs $330 a day for a private bed or $280 for a semi-private bed and addiction programs generally last 35 days.” Addiction rehabilitation can easily submerge an already struggling family into debt.

Now, addiction is certainly beginning to sound more and more like a mental illness.

Although one can argue that addiction should not be considered a disability on the grounds of individual motivation and behavior, the cognitive and learning disability incurred during long term alcohol and drug abuse presents significant evidence that addiction is indeed a mental illness. However, despite its controversial nature, all can agree that those suffering with addiction should be treated with dignity, patience and compassion. Addiction rehabilitation should be accessible and affordable, and resources for those who are financially struggling readily available. True peace and relief will surely come shortly after.

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