New: ON MENTAL ILLNESS: A Comparison With Substance Abuse

By Jack Bragen
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 10:50:00 AM

People seem to perceive persons with mental illness similarly to how they perceive people addicted to drugs. Indeed, sometimes persons with mental illness turn to drugs in a vain effort to get relief from the torment created by their brain condition. 

However, this lumping together of categories is unfair. Mental illness is not the result of a choice. However, people addicted to drugs at some point made the decision to ingest something, and their ongoing difficulties may be related to that specific behavior. Persons with mental illness, on the other hand, experience problems that have been handed to them by a malfunction in their gray matter. 

Both categories of ill people, (those addicted to drugs and persons with mental illness) have a tendency toward behavior problems. However, much of the time these specific behaviors are of a different type. 

Persons addicted to alcohol and drugs have behaviors that are intended to support their habit, which is sometimes very expensive. They may have additional problems with violence--including but not limited to domestic violence. 

Persons with mental illness, on the other hand, tend to have behavior problems related to being disconnected from reality, or related to being extremely depressed or manic. A person with mental illness may get violent, but it is not carried out in a bullying manner. When persons with mental illness are violent, (which is also infrequent, despite public perceptions to the contrary) it is usually random and disorganized. 

Many persons addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs come from a dysfunctional family, and many have a past of being physically or mentally abused. However, many persons who suffer mental illnesses come from good families, and a fair number have done well in school before the onset of their illness. 

Persons with mental illness have our own version of sobriety, and the biggest part of that is medication compliance. For someone with schizophrenia, staying on prescribed medication is the equivalent of an alcoholic person staying sober. When medication is a given, a person with mental illness can furnish effort to address the remainder of their problems. 

Even after compliance with treatment is established, persons with mental illness face an uphill battle. There are a number of difficulties we must face if we are trying to create a decent life for ourselves. We are typically economically disadvantaged, and it is very hard for us to get hired at a good job, not to mention performing at such a job. In general, we are not perceived well, and in people's perceptions we are lumped into the same category as criminals. 

Persons with mental illness have it rough, as do persons addicted to substances. Both are people suffering from diseases, and those in neither category deserve to be punished for having a disease. However, there are differences. Just as apples and oranges are both fruit but have different characteristics, persons with mental illness and those addicted to substances are similar in some ways, yet not the same. 

On the other hand, there exists a third category of unfortunate people, those with dual diagnosis. This is usually someone who has a mental illness and in an attempt to get relief, self medicates with alcohol or drugs. It is much harder for someone with mental illness to get off of substances compared to someone who is strictly an addict or alcoholic. These are people who need a lot of help, and there isn't much help for them at present.