An estimated 20.6% of the U.S. population has a mental illness. Many of those people, or about 15.8% of the total U.S. population, receives prescription medication to manage their symptoms and improve quality of life. For many of us, those medications are necessary to function in a way that allows us to be productive, to work, and to maintain social lives.
At the same time, mental illnesses greatly increase your risks of substance use disorders. While some 20% of the U.S. population has a mental illness, an estimated 40% or more of persons with a substance use disorder Dual-diagnosis or having a co-occurring disorder is incredibly common. But, how does that overlap with medication? And, how do you respond to “fully abstinent” recovery centers?
In most cases, it’s important to seek out dual diagnosis treatment so that you can treat both the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder at the same time. Looking for a dual diagnosis treatment center also ensures you can continue to use most psychiatric medications while in treatment.
Why Many Rehab Clinics Move for Abstinence
Many people believe that if you’re getting clean, you have to quit everything. That’s been a doctrine of treatment for decades. It’s also a barrier to treatment and to long-term recovery for many people with severe mental health problems.
For example, many 12-step centered rehabs use “abstinence only” programs. This also holds true once you complete rehab and move into self-help and support groups. If you use medication, even for psychiatric problems, you’re not clean anymore.
That’s sometimes fair, considering psych meds can be incredibly addicting and habit forming on their own. Of those, one of the most popular, benzodiazepines, actually tops the list as one of the most addictive drugs in the world. That’s important, because it can affect your ability to recovery.
- Prescription medications can be and are addictive. It’s important to discuss recovery with your medication with your doctor
- Many recovery clinics, especially Christian-based ones, want a total commitment to being clean, and ridding your body of all interference. That can be dangerous for individuals with severe mental health problems and suicidal ideation, have extreme bipolar disorder, or have schizophrenia. You might need your medication to function. However, it might work for you for the short term.
- Medications have traditionally been addictive and habit forming. That isn’t always the case anymore. The most common newly diagnosed drug class is SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). These drugs are not habit forming, do not cause a high, and don’t interfere with recovery.
- Individuals leaving recovery might be tempted to lean on their medication, changing the mental addiction from one substance to another. This is highly unlikely with long-acting SSRIs but may be more of an issue if you have Valium or another short-acting and habit-forming drug.
Essentially, the mentality behind completely avoiding drugs during recovery is outdated for many psychiatric drugs today. However, there can be valid reasons why you might want to cut down, switch to another drug, or switch to a different drug to reduce the chances of relapse. It’s always important to discuss any of these changes with a medical professional, namely your doctor and psychiatrist, so that you get medical advice from the people who know your specific problems.
Taking Psych Meds in Recovery
While abstinence ideals can serve a purpose, in that they separate you from drug use, they can be dangerous. They’re also excluding to individuals who need medication to live happy, healthy lives. Luckily, there are plenty of treatment programs that take dual diagnosis patients. These often work with you based on your original diagnosis, your new diagnosis, and your ongoing progress. You might have to sit down with your doctor or with a medical professional to determine if your medication is suitable for recovery. However, many anti-depressants and anti-psychotics are safe to take during recovery.
That also extends to self-help and recovery support groups after you complete treatment. For example, many 12-Step groups openly support prescription medications. Others do not. You’ll have to check on a group-by-group basis. You can also look to groups like Double Trouble in Recovery that exist to cater to the needs of dual-diagnosis patients.
Getting Professional Medical Advice
There is no alternative to sitting down with your doctor and mental health professionals to discuss your substance use and problems. Doing so is crucial to moving forward with substance abuse treatment as well as with moving forward with your mental health treatment. Mental health problems exacerbate your risks of substance use disorder. Your mental health providers will understand. They will help you to find a positive route through treatment. And, they can offer you the best advice on what to do with medication anyhow to use it throughout treatment. For example, you might be able to:
- Taper down medication with mental monitoring and move to something that is less addictive
- Increase behavioral therapy and counseling treatment options to attempt to reduce medication
- Start a risk management program so that your doctors hold you more accountable for usage and reliance
Any of these strategies might be right for you. If you have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be able to live without medication. You deserve to be able to get treatment anyway. Your medication should not and does not prevent you from getting treatment. However, it may be a barrier in some organizations. If so, they are not the right organization for you.
Preventing Reliance on Psych Meds in Recovery
Some medications are physically and mentally addicting. If you’re taking medication during recovery, you’re also taking it at one of the most vulnerable points in your life. It’s easy to switch from relying on one drug to another. People in recovery have been known to switch substance use disorder fixation from something like heroin to something like caffeine, sugar, or another food. Preventing reliance on psychiatric meds means paying attention to usage, being strict with yourself, and frequently checking in with your doctor and mental health professional. If you don’t have a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy in place, ask for one. It could help you a lot.
Millions of Americans need psychiatric medications. That should not be a barrier to treatment, before or after rehab. Yet, sometimes it is. In some cases, anti-medication ideals have a point. Some medications are habit-forming and that can interfere with your ability to recover. Others are not and shouldn’t matter. Your best option is to have a discussion with the prescribing doctor, to discuss your problems, and discuss where you want to be. They should be able to help you to make the right decisions for your recovery and your mental health.