It is human nature to want to reduce or avoid pain. If we are living with mental or physical pain and not getting the treatment that we need, many people will self-medicate to manage the symptoms.

Margaret Trudeau recognizes the impetus behind self-medicating through the use of substances in the case of untreated mental illness. While drugs and alcohol may seem like obvious choices to take us away from the reality of suffering, there are other forms of addiction that can be just as damaging, such as problematic use of food, internet porn, shopping, or gambling.

It can be easy to beat ourselves up over these actions. However, Trudeau stresses that “these are all part of the mental illness and not to be separated from it…You are abusing alcohol because you’re escaping.” But she also says that fortunately, “there is another way. You can get back to your good self where you don’t need to escape.”

It is important to speak to a medical professional knowledgeable about mental illness and addiction to explore the treatment options that are available and best for you. A dual diagnosis of a mental health disorder and a substance abuse issue makes it important for you to receive treatment for both at the same time, to help ensure the treatment for the mental illness is effective, and that you are supported to remain clean and sober to benefit from the care and treatment.

When we recognize that addiction may have began as an attempt to self-medicate for mental or physical pain, we can avoid some of the erroneous stereotypes that suggest addiction is just a lifestyle choice. This also helps us understand why addressing the underlying pain is critical to sustaining recovery from any addiction.

For helpful ideas about supporting an employee who is in recovery see Impairment and Substance Use.