Does a Dual Diagnosis Mean I’m Doomed?
Like most teens turning 16, the two words I wanted to hear that spring were “driver’s” and “license.” That didn’t happen, but it was probably a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t fit to get behind the wheel of a go-cart, much less a car. No, I was a mess.
Part of me knew I was a mess. The other part of me thought I was coping pretty well, considering I was scared out of my mind.
My Life’s Unexpected Struggle
What was I scared of? The list is shorter if I tell you what didn’t scare me. Let’s just say enough things got me worked up every day (gym glass, the bus ride home, homework, being called on in class, the thought of college, not fitting in…) that I tried to find something to take the edge off.
I discovered that a drink or two did the job well. I could relax at a party. I was more outgoing in class. I didn’t care as much if my homework was done or if I got a bad grade. If I did start to feel nervous again, I could just drink a little more…and a little more…and…well, I think you get the idea.
This went on for a while – until my parents decided I needed an intervention. After a few rounds of meetings with a school counselor, a therapist, a psychiatrist and someone who called herself a “teen advocate,” they hit me with the label. Dual diagnosis. Anxiety and alcoholism.
‘Great,’ I thought, ‘I’m doomed. What kind of kid has so much wrong with her that she needs two diagnoses? I must be beyond help now.’
Living with Labels
Fortunately, I was wrong about my diagnoses. And apparently, I wasn’t the only one stuck in this cycle.
I learned that over half the teens who abuse alcohol and drugs are battling some kind of mental illness. It’s common for adolescents to try to deal with what’s going on mentally by self-medicating with alcohol. Many experience anxiety, like me, and others struggle with depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or bipolar disorder.
That made me feel a little better, knowing I wasn’t alone. But, it didn’t really help me out of my situation. No matter how many other teens are dually diagnosed, I had to deal with my big two. And I did.
Six Secrets to Dealing with Dual Diagnosis
- I learned about anxiety and alcoholism. I began to understand that I was actually making myself worse instead of dealing with my nervous feelings. I actually piled on the anxiety, because I started getting anxious if I couldn’t have a drink. My body was also becoming dependent, and withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety! That’s a rough cycle, and I wanted to be free from it.
- I got help. I started counseling to cope with the anxiety. I maintained sobriety by using new coping mechanisms I learned through psychotherapy.
- I practiced mind-body medicine techniques. By learning how to calm my mind and honor my body’s processes, I was able to manage stress and treat both disorders.
- I learned how to recognize my risk for relapse. I discovered it helps to learn what daily habits and patterns trigger my cravings and fears. When I’m aware of these, expect them, and am prepared to deal with them, I am less likely to return to old ways.
- I started eating better and exercising. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you do this. Sure, I still had popcorn when I watched movies and munched on the occasional candy bar. But, I improved my overall eating habits, and I did a lot more walking and biking.
- I faithfully attended self-help groups for those dealing with dual diagnosis. There were surprisingly quite a few to choose from right nearby. These have provided support, understanding and encouragement when I needed them.
Imperfect and Proud of It
Life isn’t perfect now, but it’s sure better than it was. Today, I realize I wasn’t doomed with a dual diagnosis. In fact, it was simply the first step in realizing what kind of help I needed.
I’m glad someone recognized what was going on so we could address both things – that was key. It got me on the right track toward recovery…and I even have my driver’s license now.
Additional Reading: 5 Things to Know About Dual Diagnosis Treatment
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