A co-occurring disorder, also known as a dual diagnosis, is a mental disorder that combines with substance abuse to compound one’s symptoms and complicate treatment. Over half of all individuals suffering from drug addiction are also believed to have a co-occurring mental illness such as anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. Conversely, over one third of all individuals with a mental illness suffer from some form of substance addiction. Treating all of these issues concurrently is imperative for long term recovery.
In my journey as a woman in recovery, I had to overcome much more than substance abuse: I suffered from depression and anxiety, as well as an eating disorder. My hope is that by sharing my experience with others, I can help someone see that they are not alone. If I can overcome these things in my life, you can too!
When I was 15 years old, my parents told me that they were getting divorced. At the time, the only thing I could control in my life was food. I began restricting my eating, later realizing that this was the beginning of my battle with an eating disorder. I would either restrict or binge so I didn’t have to feel my feelings or deal with the chaos around me. When I would restrict my eating, I would become irritable and depressed, and when I would binge, I would literally be engaging in the act of eating my feelings, which led to serious self esteem issues because I would put on weight. I felt that if I looked perfect on the outside, no one would know what a mess I was on the inside.
Then, I was introduced to Adderall. I thought it was the best thing ever, because it gave me the energy and pep to make everything seem perfect while totally killing my appetite. Very quickly, this dream drug turned into a living nightmare, fueling an active and growing addiction and exacerbating my eating disorder. Within weeks I was completely dependent and addicted to Adderall. At 5’7 I had dropped down to just 95 lbs, and was fighting the worst depression of my life. My eating disorder and my addiction were no longer a secret – it was now painfully obvious to everyone around me that I had a problem. This was the lowest point of my life.
Depression and Anxiety
Meanwhile, I can remember having anxiety as young as five years old. I was so worried all the time that I would literally wring my hands. I was five years old – what could I have possibly been so worried or stressed about? But that is just how anxiety is; there is no rhyme or reason to it. On top of everything else, I was a perfectionist, so if I were not the best at something, I considered myself a failure. This only fueled my anxiety and depression further, because I always felt like I was never good enough.
I had my first suicide attempt at 15 years old. I continued to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol for years after that, which only worsened my depression. Several more suicide attempts later, I just wanted to give up. It seemed there was no other way out from how I was feeling.
My journey in recovery began when I was thirty four years old. My addiction had spiraled out of control, and I had been suicidal for almost twenty years. I had no concept that there was another way of feeling or acting in life. Through treatment, I have been sober for three years, and I have finally found healthy ways to deal with my anxiety and depression. I have become a happy, strong woman today!
I thank God everyday that I was able to get the help I needed so desperately to heal and begin my journey of recovery. An eating disorder can be especially difficult to overcome because we literally have to eat in order to survive. The co-occurrence of these disorders with my substance abuse nearly sealed my fate. But just like any disorder, there are deeper issues that are causing these behaviors. Once these issues are identified, and treated by a professional, you can learn healthy coping mechanisms and overcome your co-occurring disorders.
Crystal Hampton is a 37 year old avid writer from South Florida. She loves snuggling with her teacup yorkie Gator and boyfriend Adam. She works for a digital marketing company that advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.