Sunday, 29 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 4 - Addiction

Lack of sleep has left me feeling sluggish and a bit demotivated, so I apologise in advance for any poor spelling! Thankfully, having another awesome story from today's guest blogger, Mark, I've found the motivation to push through the sleepy haze. Plus, the hubby is cooking tea - bonus!

Today's post looks at addiction. If I am completely honest, I'm quite uneducated on this topic, but Mark's story is inspiring, honest and thought provoking, and has led me to want to learn more. You'll find his story below, but first up, here's some information.

What is addiction?

Today's guest blogger, Mark, has also released a free e-book, which has a great definition of what addiction is:

"Addiction is a strong, uncontrollable need for drugs, drink or to perform a particular activity. In
severe cases, this addiction becomes the most important thing in your life and often leads to
problems in all other aspects of life." (Taylor, 2013)

Addiction can take many different forms, whether it be through substance abuse, gambling, sex or even work. It is estimated that around two million people in the UK have an addiction in one form or another, according to the NHS Choices website. Addicts are unable to control doing, using or taking something, and this can result in the addiction becoming out of control as they require more and more to satisfy the craving and get the same mental "high".

There are many reasons why an addiction can develop, and it wouldn't be possible to list them all in a blog post. Some research suggests it is genetic, while others show that your environment plays a massive part, such as peer pressure, or perhaps it is used as a coping method to "numb" other problems in your life.

The impact of an addiction can be devastating on physical and mental health. In terms of mental health specifically, if you already have a diagnosis or are living with a mental health disorder, the symptoms of your condition could heighten. For example, alcohol is a depressant, and can also reveal more underlying issues such as anxiety or anger. The problem is that the feeling of numbness alcohol (or other dependencies) might bring is only a temporary relief, and the after effect tends to be worse.

When you have an addiction alongside a mental health illness, it is often referred to as a dual diagnosis.

What are the signs of an addiction?

As addiction can be different in every individual, there's not a one rule approach to what an addiction "looks" like. Here is a list of some potential signs:
  • Defensiveness and/or denial - If others around you start to question your behaviour, you may deny any knowledge or become defensive about the topic. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms - You may experience physical and mental withdrawal or "come down" symptoms if you don't take, use or do enough to satisfy a craving. This could include depression, anxiety, nausea, sweating, or insomnia, for example. 
  • Financial difficulties - You may face money troubles because of the need to pay to satisfy your addiction, and some may borrow or steal money. 
  • Physical symptoms might include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, weight loss/gain, impaired coordination, large or smaller pupils/bloodshot eyes, and changes in physical appearance (i.e. personal grooming). 
If you suspect someone you know has an addiction, remember that support is vital, and remain non-judgmental. Be ready for denial, tears, anger and frustration. Help them explore the options of professional help. 

What treatments are available? 

Once again, it's important to highlight that treatment plans will be different for everyone, depending on the type of addiction, the severity of it, and whether there are any other associated illnesses. In the first instance, always visit your GP - they will be able to help and support you even if you're not necessarily at a stage to stop completely. They will be able to refer you to specialist services as well such as statutory drug and alcohol teams, and mental health teams, as an example.

CBT is often used as a talking therapy to help those with an addiction - alternatively, counselling is an option, and there are trained counsellors who can specifically help with addiction issues. Speak to your GP to see what your surgery offers or where you can go for free/low cost counselling near you. 

For some, medication may be an option, but once again, this depends on the type of addiction.

There are lots of self-help programmes available online and through books, and there are many success stories, so consider this as another option. 

Mark's Story

It took me almost ten years to finally admitt that I am an addict. It took me five rehab programmes, nearly half a million pounds, everything I had and every relationship that mattered to me, for me to admit that I am an addict and powerless to my addictions and ultimately, a doctor had to stand over my bed, after two heart attacks, a stroke and pserosis of the liver, to know that enough was enough and that just one more drink or one more line of cocaine would kill me. 

Now, I feel comfortable and confident saying that I am an addict. I find strength in knowing that I simply do not have another recovery in me and in the two years that I have been clean and sober, I have managed to rebuild some of the relationships I damaged. 

It is likely that many people who do not know about addiction would have judged me on some of the behaviours my addiction drove me to. I pawned my sisters jewellery, even though she gave me somewhere to live, fed and watered me and showed continual support when almost everyone else had turned their back on me. I was dirty - a disgrace really, and at well over 6 foot, I looked ill at just 14 stone. My house was filthy. I didn’t change, I rarely washed and rather than spending money on even the most baisc of things like a toothbrush or a loaf of bread, every penny I had, and more, went on drink and drugs. I begged, I borrowed and often, I stole. I was violent, I was a criminal and I had no regard for anything other than my next fix. 

People who do understand addiction, and thankfully were there to support me in the more challenging stages of my addiction, knew that I was masking a wealth of mental health problems and physical dependent on alcohol to the point that I couldn’t get out of bed without a glass of vodka. They knew that as part of managing my addiction, I would need to address the various mental health problems that I had been hiding for so many years. My diagnosis included depression, psychosis, PTSD and OCD. I had been self medicating for years and didn’t know how to cope, manage or face life without doing so. Drinking two litres of vodka and taking nearly 6 grammes of cocaine a day, helped me stop nightmares, quietened the voices in my head and control my need to perform obsessive rituals that influenced many of my thoughts and behaviours.  

Unlike many of the other times I had tried to get clean and sober, when I went into my  final rehabilitation programme, I surrendered. It was the first time I had been honest with anyone other than my drug dealer. I was honest with myself, I was honest with the nurses, doctors and psychiatrists that were there to care for me and  found the strength to be honest with those around me. I took each hour as it came, I focused on changing myself from the inside, I accepted what I had done and forgived the people around me who had encouraged, who had not understood and judged without knowing. 

Now, two years on, I have found strength to manage over 700 days and 15,000 hours. I have days where I get through the day without thinking about it whilst others, I still revert back to an hour at a time. I have accepted that I will be an addict forever and I am thankful for each day that I am clean and sober. I have many other things to be thankful of now including a fiance, a flat and a career helping and supporting others with addiction. I have written a book. I have my own website and share my story to inspire and motivate others. Most, I have addressed my mental health issues with the correct medication and work hard to be kind to myself. I run groups, coach, mentor and always have my phone on to help people who are facing similar struggles. Today, I am thankful for being able to write this blog and share my story with others once again. If there is anything I can do to help or support anyone facing challenges with mental health or addiction, you can find my details at or connect with me on twitter @addiction_mark.  

Mark has also recently published his first e-book which is available on his website for free. 

Further Information

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