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Coping with Comorbid Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Tips that work. A plan. These are what help in the battle with mental illness and substance abuse. The material here is from individuals dealing with both diagnoses and for their family members. Tips are shared anonymously for privacy reasons.

If you suspect alcohol or drugs are interfering with your life and your ability to handle your mental health issues, you may be facing a dual diagnosis situation. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional without delay to begin the process of understanding and trying treatment options.

  • I have learned that willingness is the key to successful recovery work. The willingness to take actions that bring change must completely come from within.
  • I recommend the program of Alcoholics Anonymous to anyone suffering from alcohol dependence or abuse.
  • Long-term, consistent counseling helps, and medications provide temporary relief, offering stability and clarity to begin the true work of recovery.
  • Dealing with alcoholism or drug addiction is never easy, but it is even more difficult when you have a mental illness like depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety. It’s possible, however, and millions of us are successfully coping every day.
  • If you relapse, think of that as just another day, another step to getting back to handling your life one day at a time. Don’t give up. Just go back to what was working for you.
  • Find out what’s really going on with you. For a long time, I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder because the symptoms of heavy drinking masked everything else. I only found out when I heard other people in my AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings talk about their anxiety getting worse as they drank more and more alcohol. That’s when I went to a doctor.
  • A lot of people drink to feel better or to control other symptoms, but that doesn’t really work. You may feel better or be able to fake it for a while, but eventually it doesn’t help, and you end up with more problems and damage from the alcohol.
  • It’s work. Every. Day. But it’s worth it all. I feel so much better now that I don’t drink. I don’t know why I ever did.
  • Give AA a chance. Even if it seems weird at first. The people there have been where you are and can help you. AA may be the only way to stop drinking. They understand. And a lot of them have depression or anxiety. They know what they’re talking about. And they care. If they don’t, find another meeting. There’s something for every kind of person.
  • “Do the next right thing.” That’s from AA, and sometimes it’s all I can remember, but it helps just to have that little sentence to say.
  • I found a lot of help in NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meetings and in their Family-to-Family program. What they showed me made me understand more about what my family was going through. My son is in their peer group now. I think it helps him.
  • Join a support group. Ask your counselor or mental health center for one near you. They have different kinds of groups, and some are just for substance abuse. Go to two, if you can, one for the substance abuse and one for other mental health problems. You can do this, and it helps to have other people on your side. 
  • Just go. Whether it’s to a meeting, a counseling appointment, or support group, just get out of the house. Don’t spend too much time alone. 
  • Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. If your family or friends don’t understand, just do what you have to anyway. You’re doing this for you.

You’re not alone. People are gathering every day to get help and support from each other and from programs, support groups, medical professionals, and family or friends.

The concept of “one day at a time” might be broken down further, if needed. One second is not so very long. And yet, we live our lives just that way, in tiny bits of time like seconds. We all do.

Where can you find this help? Find information and talk lines online as well as locally. Hospitals, mental and behavioral health centers, community connections groups, the “Yellow Pages” of your telephone book, churches, friends, and libraries. 

If you are a student, your school can be helpful. Many colleges and universities offer free counseling along with other information to students and staff.

Talking to your doctor or pastor is one way to get started. What’s important is to start. After that, it becomes easier to develop your own plan and to stick with it. 

Let friends and family members know what you’re doing and why. Tell them how they can help you.  

Coping with Comorbid Substance Abuse and Mental Illness


Jan McDaniel

Jan McDaniel is a writer from the Southeastern United States. A former newspaper reporter and college English instructor, she writes a blog column ("This New Life") for the Alliance of Hope for suicide loss survivors and serves as an AOH forum moderator and Steward Group Leader. On her website, she writes about her journey through traumatic grief after the suicide of her husband of over thirty years and how she found survival, connection and hope: www.wayforhope.weebly.com.


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APA Reference
McDaniel, J. (2020). Coping with Comorbid Substance Abuse and Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/coping-with-comorbid-substance-abuse-and-mental-illness/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Aug 2020 (Originally: 2 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Aug 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.