Annette Marshall blogs about her journey to wholeness from the effects of the disease of addiction in loved one’s. Her blog Just For Today focuses on living a whole life despite the challenges that life often brings. She believes that by God’s grace she has been able to travel a journey that is leading her out of fear and into faith. In addition, she is the long time married mom of 4 kids, an end of life caregiver, a volunteer parent coach for The Partnership For Drug Free Kids as well as an 11 year member of Alanon. Today she shares with us the complicated relationship between addiction and mental illness. 

I just finished a book called Ben Behind His Voices written by Ben’s mom, Randye Kaye. She is telling the story of their journey to get Ben the help he so desperately needed and the eventual diagnosis of schizophrenia.

What I am most astounded by is how parallel the journey is for the parents of someone with substance use disorder and the parents of a mentally ill child…adult or not. Often the two worlds collide into a dual diagnosis of both mental illness and addiction, both co-existing within the same troubled and hurting soul, as was the case for Ben.

From the gradual progression of the disease(s), the lack of real and affordable help that is available, the need for our loved ones to get worse in order to qualify for help, the endless costs involved, the battles with insurance companies to get treatment and hospital stays covered, the letting go process, the relapses, to the stigma. Randye said at one point she had to “reject” her son over and over again and it felt like it would kill her…but it was the only way for him to qualify for any sort of help. He had to be “homeless.”


I began to think, what if addiction was classified as a mental illness? I think we are making progress in that realm… it is called a “brain disorder” in the DSM, but society, the medical profession, the judicial system, have been slow to get on board. As hard as it is to get appropriate help for our mentally ill children, its even HARDER for our addicted children.

What if we didn’t view a deep, life encompassing addiction as a character weakness, or a moral issue, as a bad choice, or a lack of wanting to change?  What if we could acknowledge that the drugs are a symptom of something else, a root cause, a brain disorder, a way to self medicate whatever is ailing their insides?

What if we found a way to change our system to actually help people get to places of health and healing without making them want to give up before they have even begun? The thing that we all have in common is that we all have had to beat our heads against big thick stone walls to get our kids the help they so desperately need. And only a small percentage of us are actually successful. Why is that?

brain-addicaid-addiction-recoveryIt appears that the current opioid epidemic has forced our nation to courageously look more honestly at the disease of addiction and to begin to formulate some more compassionate responses and solutions. There are more evidence based methods of treatment being offered today, such as Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training (CRAFT,) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT,)  Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) among others.

However, it seems that there are no quick fixes. As parents and partners and family members can we come to a place of acceptance that our loved one’s future might look very different than anything we had planned on or envisioned? Can we accept that recovery is a long process, filled with stops and starts and ups and downs?

It is rarely a straight shot to total abstinence. Total abstinence does happen and with some substances is more common than others, but it’s not the norm. Recovery takes time and “different” is not always bad. Sometimes “different” takes us to places of blessings we never knew were available.

I was recently talking with a mom-friend about her mentally ill daughter and my addicted daughter (who, unbeknownst to this mom, does have a dual dx.) We talked about the gray area of letting go when your child is bipolar with various disorders because they truly can not manage to take care of their own business vs. an addict….who in my situation, is very often in that same boat.

brain-addicaid-addiction-recoveryUnable to navigate big insurance companies and make her own medical appointments without lots of encouragement and direction. This mom unknowingly said, “Yeah, but she has a choice. My daughter doesn’t.” In other words…”my daughter is just a victim of some awful circumstances. Yours chose to live in this hell.”

I bit my tongue. I KNOW that this woman meant no harm. I KNOW that she doesn’t understand and THAT is part of the stigma of addiction. I was able to gently point that out…that most, if not all, addicts are so physically and mentally stuck. That many begin to use because of a mental health issue. That no one plans on becoming an addict, just like no one plans on becoming mentally ill. Our commonality is that we both have daughters who are so very much loved, but also, very stuck.

So what is the answer?

I think our perceptions of “illness” need to change. Our judgements of deserving and being a victim need to change. No one “deserves” to be sick, in any form. But it happens. Babies are born with deformities, cancer, wonderful people who have given so much to society die from diseases and illness, and homeless drug addicts, sons and daughters, loved and hoped for by someone at one point, die alone in parks and public bathrooms….it happens. And no one is more innocent than the other. Treatment vs. judgement. Absolution, forgiveness, freedom. For us all.

Praying always…

[ by Annette Marshall . Find Annette at Just For Today ]

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