Roads to Recovery: getting past substance use or mental disorders

Thirty years ago, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) designated September as “Recovery Month” to increase awareness and understanding about substance use and mental health disorders and provide resources to the community. It is also a time that we can celebrate the recovery of those who have been impacted by these disorders.

This year’s theme is “Together we are stronger.” This theme reminds us that we are all impacted by substance use and mental health disorders, and that we are all part of the solution.

Approximately eight million individuals experience both (co-occurring) mental health and substance use disorders. Recovery from these conditions is the process whereby the individual makes changes that promote quality of life, health, wellness, relationships and stability. Millions are in recovery from substance use and mental health disorders and have gone on to live rewarding and fulfilling lives.

Approximately 46.6 million individuals ages 18 and up and 16.9 million ages 12-17 experience mental health disorders annually according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Anxiety and depressive disorders are some of the most commonly experienced mental health issues, yet many suffering from these conditions never ask for help.

There are over 200 different mental health disorders that one can experience across the lifespan. Everyone experiences anxiety and depression on occasion, but if overwhelming sadness, nervousness, worry, panic or fear begin to impact your ability to function, you may need assistance.

Thoughts that you are better off dead or thoughts of harming yourself or others always indicate an urgent need for help. and you should follow up with a mental health professional or your primary care provider immediately.

Estimated rates of mental health disorders in the last year are as follows:

  • Anxiety: 40 million people ages 18 and up; 4.4 million people ages 3-18
  • Depression: 17.3 million people ages 18 and up; 3.2 million people ages 12-17

In 2018, SAMHSA released statistics regarding substance use in the past month for individuals ages 12 and up, and the statistics are staggering. They found that 139.8 million people ages 12 and up and 2.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 reported drinking in the past month. Estimates of alcohol and illicit drug use in the last month are as follows:

  • Binge drinking: 61 million people ages 12 and up, including 1.2 million adolescents ages 12-17
  • Marijuana: 35 million people ages 12 and up, including 3.1 million adolescents ages 12-17
  • Cocaine (including crack): 5.5 million people ages 12 and up, including 112,000 adolescents ages 12-17
  • Heroin: 808,000 people ages 12 and up, including 10,000 adolescents ages 12-17
  • Methamphetamine: 1.9 million people ages 12 and up, including 43,000 adolescents ages 12-17
  • Hallucinogens: 5.6 million people ages 12 and up, including 376,000 adolescents ages 12-17 (Hallucinogens include Molly, PCP, Ecstasy, LSD, Special K, and Dimitri or DMT.)
  • Inhalants: 2.2 million people ages 12 and up, including 662,000 adolescents ages 12-17
  • Stimulants: 5.1 million people ages 12 and up, including 369,000 adolescents ages 12-17
  • Tranquilizers/sedatives: 6.4 million people ages 12 and up, including 460,000 adolescents ages 12-17
  • Pain relievers: 9.9 million people ages 12 and up, including 695,000 adolescents ages 12-17

It is very likely that you know someone with mental health and/or substance use disorders. Family and friends of those struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders often need support too.

If you choose to approach someone about your concerns, it is important to be respectful, compassionate and kind during the discussions. Blaming or belittling someone with mental health or chemical health issues can raise barriers to your ability to communicate in a supportive and effective way.

Early identification of substance use and mental health disorders can play a role in prevention and the effectiveness of treatment. Don’t wait for your children to come to you to bring up the subject of mental health and substance use.

Teens are bombarded with information from peers, the media, and various websites every day. It is important to find out what your children may have heard and for you to provide them with accurate information about mental health and substance use. With alcohol and marijuana (in many states) being legal, the discussion can be more complicated, but many times these substances are considered “gateway drugs” which can lead to use of other drugs.

Untreated substance and mental health disorders pose risks to health, employment, social relationships, legal status and academics. If you are pregnant, there is no known safe level of alcohol and drug use, and there may be serious injury or death to the unborn child.

There are a variety of recovery options for individuals and their families who are being impacted by substance use or mental disorders. Treatment, psychotherapy, medications, support groups, and peer-led recovery groups are just a few of the options available.

If you are experiencing any of the following, you may have an alcohol or drug use disorder and should follow-up with your primary care, mental health or substance use provider:

  • Inability to limit drinking or drug use
  • Continuing to drink or use drugs despite personal or work problems
  • Needing to drink or use drugs in larger quantities to get the same effect
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about or seeking drugs and alcohol
  • Using drugs and alcohol while pregnant
  • Legal issues related to your use

Dr. Golden welcomes readers’ questions at 612-543-2500.

Additional resources:

NorthPoint Health and Wellness Primary Care and Behavioral Health: 612-543-2500

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Test Line: text MN to 741741

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Help Line: 800-950-6264

NorthPoint Human Services: 612-767-9500 (for those who may be interested in chemical health or recovery needs like housing, employment, food and other supports)

About Dr. Deirdre Golden

Dr. Deirdre Golden, director of behavioral health at NorthPoint Health & Wellness, welcomes reader responses to 612-543-2705.

View all posts by Dr. Deirdre Golden →