Substance Abuse and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dozens of coexisting diagnoses often accompany dissociative identity disorder (DID). One condition that isn’t often spoken about is the propensity for forming substance abuse problems.

Let’s tackle together the complicated and often painful topic of substance abuse and dissociative identity disorder.

Why Do We Form Substance Abuse Problems?

Survivors of traumatic childhoods face a host of life-changing physical and emotional problems. Everything from heart attacks, strokes, obesity, diabetes, and cancer runs amok among those who have survived childhood trauma into adulthood. 

The emotional toll is understandably high for survivors, including the formation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder, among others. The most common psychological artifact from childhood maltreatment is difficulties with emotional regulation.

 Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional regulation is the process where people alter their behaviors and emotions based on emotion-causing events. A lack of emotional control can cause an inability to manage negative emotional states. This failure to modulate negative emotions can lead to folks having an impaired ability to function.

Children develop emotional regulation skills by interacting with parents and other caregivers. If the home is dysfunctional and unsupportive, children are less likely to know how to react emotionally because their caregivers are not doing so appropriately. These kids may be exposed to mostly inappropriate emotional labeling and expressions.  

Unfortunately, the lack of role models and interventions in the lives of these children leads them to grow up with difficulties regulating their own emotions. This emotional dysregulation leaves adult survivors highly susceptible to addictions.

Avoiding Emotions Becomes a Problem

There are many reasons survivors turn to substances. These may include all of but not only the following:

  • Blocking out bad memories
  • Loneliness
  • To boost their self-esteem
  • To boost their self-worth
  • As an attempt to cope with anxiety
  • To cope with depression
  • To cope with complex post-traumatic stress disorder
  • To deal with isolation
  • To cope with a variety of other co-occurring mental health disorders

The most significant problem with using a substance to deal with any of the above problems is that using does not solve any of them. Instead, using substances both give only temporary relief and exacerbates any issues that are there.

One cannot expect to heal from dissociative identity disorder and, at the same time, use a substance to get high. It will not work; trust me. I spent around thirty years hiding from my emotions and my past. When I began my healing journey, things got worse for me due to the emotional turmoil I was facing. However, using only caused me to avoid emotions that needed to be met and isolated me worse.

I was living a lie. I told myself I wasn’t addicted to the prescription opioids I was taking while at the same time telling myself I was healing from DID. I was making some progress with my healing; there can be no doubt of that. However, it was made slower and harder because I refused to face myself with all my flaws. I was running, but I wanted to stop and couldn’t.

I’ve been sober now for four years and have come a long way, baby.

What to Do If You are Addicted?

If you suspect you are addicted to a substance and you want to heal from DID, today is the day to start down the path that is less taken. Fear plays a huge part in avoiding quitting substances, as well it should. The withdrawal is terrific, but the rewards of sobriety are enormous.

There are four major stages in healing from addiction, making the decision to change, quitting the substance, coping with the withdrawal, and avoiding relapse. Let us examine each in turn.

Making the Decision to Change. It may seem a no-brainer that you would need to decide you want to get sober, but it is not. The hold addictions have on our brains are prohibitive. Serotonin, a feel-good substance that naturally occurs in our brain, is a culprit in substance abuse disorders. When stimulated by a substance, the brain will produce serotonin. After a while, the brain will chase more serotonin output by demanding more and more drugs. So, deciding to get sober is harder than it may seem. It is not a matter of willpower; it is a matter of defeating our own brain’s cravings.

Quitting an Addictive Behavior. Because the brain is screaming for more of the drug of your choice, it will fight tooth and nail against discontinuing its use. As my therapist once told me, it’s time to buckle up tight and hold on to your hat because the ride is going to get bumpy.

Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms. Withdrawal is different for different people. However, there is one common thread for it all; withdrawal is hell. It is vital to state here that withdrawal is a dangerous process that may require inpatient care. You are not wimpy by asking for help; you are sane. Withdrawal is a horrendous experience, but once you are through it, you will never want to use it again.

Avoiding Relapse. The most significant way to avoid relapse is to be open and honest about your addiction with your family, your doctors, and yourself. If you have a therapist, tell them about what is going on and hold nothing back. Being brutally honest gets the secrecy of addiction out into the light of day, where it can be seen and tackled. The biggest and best friend of addiction is secrecy.

For Those of You Who Suffer from an Addiction

This piece was not meant to shame but to offer you information that you can act upon. You are not weak, broken, or unfixable. I believe in you.

Addictions are deadly. Oh, you may get along for a time and do simply beautiful when you are young, but someday the cumulative damages will come back to haunt you. I know what I’m talking about. I have ruined my health, and now right before I turn sixty, I’d love to go back in time and take the bottle of pills out of my hand.

Yet, I know that everything comes in its own time. I wasn’t ready to face my emotions head on back then. Now that I do, I find that I much prefer it this way. Yes, I cry real tears over things that should never have happened to me. However, they are cleansing tears of healing, and I’d have it no other way.

I remember that emotions are neither good nor bad; they are what they are.

I hope you will consider joining me in the land of the sober. It is a bumpy ride to sobriety if you are taking drugs, but the trip is worth it.

“Instead of being ashamed of what you’ve been through, be proud of what you’ve overcome.” Author Unknown

“I can choose to let it define me,

Confine me,

Refine me,

Outshine me

Or I can choose to move on and leave it behind me.” Author Unknown

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