Dual Diagnosis - Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Recovery from decades of marijuana abuse has taken me a long time – a process that was further complicated by a mental health condition I did not realize I had. I began abusing marijuana in college and graduated over the years to dependency and daily use. Initially my drug use helped me overcome a shyness dating back to my teenage years. The first time I ever used the drug was at a rock concert. Enjoying the music and feeling high, I thought I had not a care in the world. I liked the feeling and I was hooked from the very beginning. Graduate school followed college, and I continued daily use. Push came to shove and I dropped out of graduate school when my drug use sent me into a spiraling depression. At the time, of course, I did not realize my depression was related in any way to my use of marijuana or the drinking that had also somehow become a daily habit.

After the depression episode, I decided to make a new start. I cleaned up my act for a couple of years while I worked in a bank before entering law school. Following law school, I took a job as an Assistant District Attorney. I went out on Thursday nights to drink and get high and soon became a weekend warrior. I felt like a hypocrite prosecuting people for the very laws I was violating.

After problems in my marriage surfaced, that relationship came to an end. Being separated from my infant son was the hardest thing I had ever endured. The need to get high and drink increased substantially. I eventually went into solo practice, and years of practicing law by myself passed by while I struggled to be a good single parent.

Often I would go to court after getting high in the morning (before dressing), put my ever-present Visine in my eyes, and end up in court habitually late. I started doing dangerous, crazy things while high or drunk, but I did not remember any of it the next morning, which scared me. I tried to control my use but to no avail.

Complicating my attempts at recovery was a diagnosis that I suffered from bipolar disorder. This diagnosis came in my early fifties, after many years of marijuana dependency. A summer of manic behavior involving gambling and abuse of other drugs necessitated a visit to a psychiatrist who diagnosed the bipolar disorder. Some years earlier I had also been diagnosed with ADHD and given medication. I soon got off of the medication when I began to “feel better.”  I now know that ADHD and bipolar disorder correlate strongly with alcohol and drug abuse. For those of us with these mental health conditions, our brain chemistry is not in the right balance, and we use alcohol and drugs to try to achieve that balance and a sense of normalcy. At the time I was not aware of this fact or the cumulative impact it was having on my life.

The days of my drug use wore on until I was depressed again and the future looked bleak. Finally, when I had my back to the wall, and I had had enough, I called LAP. LAP helped me look at my situation and my behavior, and I was willing to follow some of LAP’s suggestions but not all them. From my initial exposure to LAP I was able to voluntarily stop using all drugs. I had been told that alcohol would reduce the effectiveness of my bipolar medication, but I continued to drink nonetheless. Medication for my bipolar disorder greatly improved my health and outlook, but because I continued to use alcohol after stopping marijuana, my problems were not yet over.

Procrastination over financial matters became a problem. Then I began to have problems at work. By this time I had become a judge. I drank alcohol during lunch on a work day and went back to work and said inappropriate things to colleagues, which got me into trouble. It was then that I knew my alcohol use had to come to an end and I joined AA. AA got me to a place I had never been before, and I credit it with literally saving my life.

While I abused other drugs and alcohol, marijuana was my drug of choice. Some people may choose to believe that marijuana is not addictive, but for me it proved otherwise. Nobody said that recovery would be easy. I have found it needs as much attention, dedication, and tender loving care as you can give it. Having a mental health component adds another wrinkle in the recovery process. I must be mindful of my mental state and continue to take my medication, even when I am “feeling better.” Stopping medication is the single greatest cause for relapse for people with my mental health condition. I believe that following the doctor’s advice is paramount. I also discovered that better sleep hygiene helped improve my medication’s effectiveness.

For me the road to recovery has been a winding path. Today I am happy to report, I sleep better and am less prone to mood swings and generally have a better quality of life. I am so grateful for the role LAP has played in my recovery and overall improved mental health.   

Don’t be remiss to seek help if anything I have shared resonates with you. LAP is there when you need it. LAP has the knowledge and expertise to help guide you to the right resources for whatever difficulties you may encounter.

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