Addiction and Mental Illness: The Struggle to Stay Sober and Sane

April 8, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Addiction and mental illness often co-occur. In fact, the combination is so common it has its own name: dual diagnosis. You can Google "dual diagnosis" or "bipolar disorder" or "dual diagnosis" but you cannot find out what a person is really feeling unless they tell you. And so I will tell you: Addiction, having once taken over my life, is trying to sneak its way back in. And I'm scared because addiction and mental illness is no joke.

What Causes an Addiction Relapse?

Similar to what causes relapse when you live with a mental illness, large (or small) life changes are at the top of the list, and that is what has thrown me off. I am moving for the third time in ten months. The first move I was excited, the second sad, and the third has left me wondering if I can sustain sobriety with what is going on in my life.

It's hard for me to write this. I wrote a book that concluded with recovery---tentative but alive---and yet I still struggle. This is the nature of addiction and, in my life, it has been as frightening as chronic mental illness. Of course, mental illness and addiction live together: my mental health is destroyed by addiction and my addiction is summoned when my mental health is precarious (and even when it is not). Sometimes, it feels like I am being pulled from two ends: the part that is stable and the part that might kill me. That is addiction. I cannot sugar coat this. What I can do, and with absolute hesitation, is describe my mindset right now.

The Mindset of a Mentally Ill Addict

I do not like that title. I am more than a mental illness and an addiction, but it is true when they say "once an addict always an addict." You can have forty-years of recovery under your belt and you still may think of drugs and alcohol and everything else that once made your world first sparkle and then crash.

The past few weeks, since I found out about the move, my mind has been skipping around. It pictures bottles of wine like you might picture the person you love most. It imagines drugs, the ones I used, sitting on my desk. Right beside me.

I am certain that if I were to relapse I would feel relief. And then utter despair. But sometimes the addict forgets the despair in light of relief. But I remember. I remember waking up in the hospital and I remember the seizures and pain and thank whoever lives in the sky that I do.

I hate addiction. I hate it more than mental illness because I cannot see my psychiatrist and find a medication that makes it better. I can only dream of my own medicine--the bad kind.

Addiction and Mental Illness Is Not Impossible to Handle

I know it will pass. It had better pass. If it does not? I am in for the long, short, haul. But there's things I can do. Things you can do if you struggle with addiction. We can go to the infamous NA or AA meetings. And they really do help. For many people, myself included.

I wait it out. I write. Writing this blog allows me to breathe a little easier. I try to remember how much addiction hurt. Me and my family. I picture the destruction: the numerous apartments I was kicked out of, the dangerous company I kept, a body that could not walk properly and skin that was scratched till it bled.

I remember this. I remember this and then I walk my dog; sometimes I cry. Because I cannot have these things and do not understand why I want them so bad after how they have hurt me. How the memories hurt me still.

But this I know: this too shall pass. And with any luck, even a little, it will.

Photo credit DJ Spiess

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, April 8). Addiction and Mental Illness: The Struggle to Stay Sober and Sane, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

October, 14 2015 at 2:33 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! I too am an addict and I am only have 30 days clean. I was struggling with wanting to use last night so bad. It helped me so much to read your story this morning. Being an addict is something I would never wish on anyone.

April, 26 2014 at 4:29 pm

I have been clean for about 5 yrs. I also struggle daily with depression and anxiety. More with the anxiety. Before i started using dope i dont recall having an issue with mental issues. But once i stopped using it came on at full speed. Some say that people with opiate addiction and others have prior mental illness or have it when they get clean. Why is that?

April, 25 2014 at 2:56 pm

I saw myself so much in this post, and I think you are very brave to be so honest. I wish you the best, you can do it!

April, 25 2014 at 2:32 pm

Thank you for sharing what it is like for u. I struggle with cutting and issues with eating. I can't really share my struggles with eating and especially can't share about wanting to cut with anyone in my life. So to make it go away, to keep from cutting, i end up turning to alcohol. I don't 'need' the alcohol or struggle to fight the urge for alcohol the way I do with cutting, but I fear that one day alcohol will be as hard to fight against as the cutting. I worry about it each day when i pick up a drink and pills.
I just can't fight the other things anymore without it. When i drink I get so hungry and want to eat anything in sight, and I don't care about the consequences of eating at those moments. I only eat once or twice a week when the urge to eat after a drink gets to strong. So i try to have no food around at all, so i can't get tempted to eat every day. I don't have a home at the moment, so it's pretty easy to not have any food around at all.
Everything keeps getting harder by the day.

April, 25 2014 at 1:32 pm

I can so relate to this post as I battle the both & on top of this am going through the turmoil of a gender transition that has caused me hardship all my life. So throw that medication on top is fuel to the fire as my emotions fluctuate so rapidly.
Still the past ways of escape always seem inviting but thankfully for today I have resisted. xxx

September, 19 2013 at 2:44 pm

I really enjoyed reading your article and I can really relate with you..I have bipolar and alcoholism..Its hard because when you are soo depressed and everything feel empty and your thinking is off and you feel nothing matters anymore you think a drink will give you a feeling, a good feeling at that, I just need a pick me up, and I also drank when i was hypomanic when i felt good i drank to feel even higher, to keep the high going, i didn't want to ever stop..But I have to remember that alcohol is a depressant and it will only make things worse, and I remember all the trouble(legal) jails, institutions, I have been in, I don't want to ever go back to that place(s)...Thank you again for making not feel alone..

April, 13 2013 at 6:16 am

Thank you, Natalie ~ such eloquent words about such a heavy struggle. I am proud of you ... of your willingness to write, to be trasparent, and to continue to fight. You are courageous. All the best to you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
April, 13 2013 at 7:18 am

Hi, Monica,
Thank you for your kind words. I sincerely appreciate it.

Sandra L. Flaada
April, 9 2013 at 12:53 pm

Thank you for your candid blog. I do not have an addiction so I cannot say I understand what you are going through. However, I do have depression, PTSD and DID. I've been in therapy for 7+ years and for the most part I feel I'm on the verge of accepting my diagnosis and going on with my life. The tough question for me now is why do I feel like I have to be so very wary of that accepting or healing. Like you, in thinking of going back to your darkest time,I question why I would do that? Because I can relax again? I don't have to be vigilant anymore? What we are doing in our attempt to heal is very hard work and sometimes we don't want to live in a time where every minute is so hard. Let me be crazy, I just don't have the stamina to keep going. It's an easy way out, in fact, you don't even need explanations as to why you do anything. I have heard this voice in my head that says "You aren't worth it Sandra." I get tired of trying to convince that damn voice!!There is a Buddhist way of Tonglen--I will breathe in your pain and release my breath to you of my wish for your healing heart. I wish you well.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
April, 10 2013 at 8:26 am

Hi, Sandra:
First, thank you for your kind words. Your experience is unique but I believe addiction and depression, PTSD and everything in between, is connected on some level. It hurts and we need to heal. Keep moving forward, that's all we can do.
Thank you for your comment,

April, 9 2013 at 7:00 am

Thank you for the candid article. I was hung up on smoking for 30 years. I quit about 5 years ago. They say it is almost as hard to quit tobacco than some of the harder drugs. I believe it because there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it...I loved to smoke.....but my husband talked to me for years about quitting. He was very kind about it. But, it only seems like yesterday that I was puffing them, and I am still so tempted I could sometimes just scream! All of my brothers and sisters still smoke. I only thank God that I didn't get caught up in the 1970s drug activity. It was all around, but I was just to chicken to try anything but drinking alcohol and smoking. I am thankful the drinking wasn't as bad as it could have been. Alcohol abuse runs in my family. Thank you Natalie for opening up your soul bravely and talking about this problem. I wish you well......

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
April, 10 2013 at 8:28 am

Hi, Carol:
I have quit smoking many times! A few a year...It's damn tough! I need a someone to nag me into quitting:) Of course, in the end it's up to us.
Thank you for your kind words,
Natalie (who is still trying to quit smoking)

April, 8 2013 at 6:15 am

Hi Natalie,
Although I've never struggled with addiction myself, I've dealt with anorexia, and I'm in this precise moment when I feel I might relapse, 'cause it gives me control, and I need it so badly, 'cause in my emotions and in my mind I can't achieve it lately, so I feel like I understand what are you going through right now.
Wish you all the strength you need, :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
April, 10 2013 at 8:29 am

Thank you! And thanks for reading--I always appreciate your comments.

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