Health and addiction are not typically thought of together, but the two have more in common than you may realize. It’s true, mental health and addiction are directly related to each other and go hand in hand. substance use disorders partially stem from drugs having addictive properties; either chemically, mentally, or physically all drugs are addictive in one way or another.
The other aspect of substance abuse is rooted in the fact that addiction is a mental illness (or disease). Mental health and addiction resemble the traits of compulsion, a mental health issue that creates a strong urge to act upon. Due to this compulsion, a person who struggles with addiction to drugs or alcohol likely also struggles with addiction to something else.
Symptoms of a Mental Health Disorder
As we mentioned, health and addiction are very closely related. Many of these compulsions stem from people with co-occurring disorders, who have a dual diagnosis (like addiction along with obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder.) Drug use is looked at as a means of self-medication to help alleviate symptoms.
Some mental disorder symptoms to be aware of:
- Social withdrawal
- Manic Emotional Highs and Lows
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Suicidal thoughts
- Anger and Irritability
- Fear and anxiety
“I have an addictive personality”
You may have heard someone say, “I have an addictive personality.” Well, there’s no such thing as “an addictive personality.” People with “addictive personalities” have the same brain functionality as people with mental and substance use disorders. They find something for their compulsion to latch on to and dive headfirst into obsession.
This compulsion and its effects may go unnoticed under the radar for several reasons. Maybe the other addiction is something legal like caffeine, sugar, or nicotine. Perhaps the other addiction is ignored because the risk factor pales in comparison to being addicted to drugs or alcohol. Maybe other people don’t know the full extent of the obsession, and since they don’t know the whole story, they may consider it a good thing. The latter is usually the case when it comes to health and addiction.
“Once an addict, always an addict…”
Many people in the world of health and fitness were formerly, or are still are, drug addicts. This is in line with the mentality of “once an addict, always an addict” that many people in recovery seem to subscribe to.
The idea behind “once an addict, always an addict,” concerning health and addiction, is you may be able to overcome your addiction to drugs, but only to replace it with addiction to something else. For instance, a significant percentage of competitive bodybuilders were formerly drug addicts; they just refocused their mentality and compulsion for drug use towards exercise. Additionally, many of them still abuse drugs, but it’s steroids now instead of heroin.
“Everything in moderation…”
“Everything in moderation” is a phrase we are all familiar with. It’s meant to let us know that if a person can approach them responsibly, almost anything can be enjoyed to some degree. The phrase is all well and good when it comes to “bad” foods, junk TV, laziness, etc. Moderation, in theory, makes sense. It’s a way to remind us that it’s okay to relax, not to be so strict or demanding on ourselves. Concerning a person with addictive compulsions, the concept of moderation is a dangerous path.
Some substance abuse counselors subscribe to the practice of moderation. The idea of being able to enjoy certain substances, like alcohol, in small amounts or only occasionally. This is more along the lines of how people who don’t have mental disorders like addiction are able to function. This is a nice thought, to believe people with addictions have that level of self-control in them. The truth is, for the most part, once alcohol abusers start drinking they can’t stop. Both sides of this argument make logical points.
- To the credit of those who preach moderation, it’s inspiring to have the belief that you have some level of control over your own life, and don’t have a life sentence of being labeled an addict; but instead can actually overcome addiction.
- To the credit of those who preach abstinence, there’s wisdom in playing it safe, especially when it comes to addiction and you’re gambling with people’s lives. Statistically, most people with addictions have not found a comfortable level of moderation, or they were only able to maintain it briefly and ended up relapsing into old habits. For someone with long-term addiction, each time they use drugs or alcohol could potentially be their last… so it’s smart to just take the thought of using out of their head completely.
“If ‘some’ is good, ‘more’ is better…”
There’s also another phrase that’s very appealing, especially to former addicts, “if some are good, more is better.” This sneaky phrase can wedge itself in the heart of those that went from living dirty to living clean, and now wanting to live extremely clean. In a way, it’s understandable, especially if one was deep in the grips of addiction, to experience what a clean lifestyle is like, to want to go even further in that direction.
This is a very black & white way of thinking, whereas the real healthy way of thinking may be somewhere in the grey area.
Is it even possible to be TOO healthy?
It is undeniable that being healthy IS a good thing. You live longer, function properly, it’s good for your body and mind to exercise and eat properly. So, if being healthy is good, is there a point where being healthy becomes bad?
There is absolutely such a thing as “too much of a good thing” and in the case of health and addiction being TOO healthy may become unhealthy. For instance, setting unrealistic health goals may cause you to make sacrifices that go against the idea of health (like taking over-the-counter‘ fat burners’) or become so laser-focused on this ideal that other aspects of life start being neglected.
Here are five ways a person can be “too healthy”:
1. They’re addicted… to exercise.
Intense exercise should be followed by adequate rest. There is nothing wrong with working up a proper sweat, lifting some heavy weights, or trying out the most demanding Crossfit workout you can find. If you take care to recover properly from such workouts, you will most likely find yourself in good health. However, some folks become addicted to working out and feel that they must do so every day.
The exercise obsessed might sacrifice sleep to get up early and work out. Without proper rest time, they are breaking down their bodies beyond what is healthy. This damage goes beyond just physical and actually affects mental health too. The central nervous system needs time to recover from heavy workouts just as much as our muscles do.
2. They sacrifice quality time with loved ones.
A compulsive mind is constantly thinking about its object of obsession. If health is the addiction then the mentality will always carry over into dietary choices. The health-obsessed might stop going over to dinner with their family because they don’t want to have a conversation regarding what new thing they’re not eating. They might also avoid hanging out with friends on a pizza night or skip other celebrations to avoid temptations or awkward moments.
Spending time with family and friends is part of a healthy life. Finding a balance between mental and physical health is critical, and if you only focus on one then the other will suffer.
3. They are hyper-focused on ONE aspect of health.
Health and wellness have many different aspects. What you eat, how you exercise, how much sleep you get, who you spend time with, how much time you spend outdoors.
Typically, the health obsessed will develop tunnel vision around only one of these areas. Normally exercise or nutrition. For example, a person may become obsessed with a certain diet (paleo, keto, etc.) They may see the benefits of it at first and after some initial success, say to themselves, “if some is good, more is better!” and start taking the ideals of the diet to extreme levels. They will lose body fat, which is their goal, but extremes come with other consequences…
4. They develop anxiety, neurosis, and eating disorders.
Taking diets to extreme levels may cause a person to become terrified of certain food groups that are still perfectly healthy and fine to eat. They will see any food that is against their goals as harmful. There are huge differences between a slice of cake and a banana, but in the eyes of the extremist, they are just sugar. At this point, extreme dieting becomes an eating disorder.
Obsessions can take control and lead an otherwise healthy person down a dangerous road. They may also develop other mental disorders, like body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is when your perception of your appearance doesn’t match reality. After eating a banana you may look in the mirror and see a significant weight gain. It may be imagined or only a minor difference, but the neurosis will cause you to obsess over trying to fix the flaw.
6. They deal with anxiety by doubling down.
Our brains like structure and patterns. Anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety develops some techniques for calming down or feeling better. Being health-obsessed tends to come with being anxious, and coping with their anxiety may drive them to extremes.
They simply don’t feel “right” unless they get their workout in, eat (or don’t eat) a certain way, etc. This mindset is no longer “making some healthy changes,” it’s now officially just a lifestyle; over time they become a prisoner to the lifestyle they chose. Instead of analyzing what might be best for them or seeking help, they go deeper into the lifestyle choices.
In the end, being healthy (mentally and physically) is about finding balance in all things. You cannot allow your compulsions to control or destroy you. We’re all in control of our own destiny, but we could all benefit from a little help and guidance sometimes.
If you struggle with mental health and addiction (to health, drugs, or anything else) contact Opus Health for a free consultation to discuss counseling services and integrated treatment. We have many treatment options that will help you find balance in your life, no matter what stage of your addiction you’re in.