When It’s Both: Your Child has a Drug Addiction and Bipolar Disorder

The Partnership welcomes back author and blogger Ginnah Howard. We’re also excited to be giving away two free copies of her novel Night Navigation – new in paperback – see below for details.

What if, in addition to having a substance abuse problem, your son or daughter also has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder? Your child’s behavior is erratic, temper explosive, judgment impaired. It’s hard to know which roller coaster you’re riding. Is it drugs or manic depression?

If the answer is “both,” then the whole dilemma of when to hang on and when to let go has become even more complicated, especially if a history of suicide is in the family footnotes. This is the dilemma which my novel, Night Navigation, explores, a story inspired by my own family’s experience of riding that roller coaster for many years.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Sixty-one percent of individuals with bipolar illness also have a substance abuse disorder. Bipolar, or manic depression, is a medical illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning. Most people usually require lifelong treatment. While medication may be a key element in successful treatment, psychotherapy, support and education about the illness are also essential components in the treatment process. Though the exact causes of bipolar disorder are not known, most scientists believe bipolar illness is caused by multiple factors that interact with each other to produce a chemical imbalance affecting certain sections of the brain.

Bipolar disorder often runs in families and studies suggest there is a genetic component. A stressful environment or negative life events may interact with biological vulnerabilities to produce the disorder. This is why when people debate the whole nature/nurture cause-and-effect question, I always say “both” to that as well. Many families have generational histories of co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse, even though neither is fully recognized as such until way down the line.

For those parents who have concerns that their son or daughter may have a co-occurring mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness website is an excellent source for information: www.nami.org


Editor’s Note: WIN a copy of Night Navigation by Ginnah Howard.
HOW TO ENTER: Leave a comment responding to Ginnah’s post with a valid email address and two winners will be chosen at random at the end of this giveaway.  Enter as many times as you want!  This giveaway ends next Tuesday July 6 @ 5PM EST.  US only. Good luck!

** Giveaway has ended **


30 Responses

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    Aria Dual Diagnosis Sullivan

    October 25, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    As someone who did not really know about dual diagnosis or its treatments before now, thank you so much for posting. I think it’s important for people to know about this: too often people with a substance abuse problem are dismissed as people who made bad choices. While this may be true on some level, it’s important to know that there is often something else going on that we may be unaware of. This post has helped me to be a little less judgmental. Thanks for posting!

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    Ginnah Howard

    September 25, 2010 at 11:12 PM


    I am happy to hear that you are finding the Famiy-to-Family Program so helpful. I will pass your evaluation on to my NAMI group here in Otsego County, New York State. I very much appreciate you getting back to me with your positive feedback. Just more proof of what a good thing blogging on this Intervene site is in terms of sharing valuable information.


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    Patti Herndon

    September 24, 2010 at 4:47 PM


    I have started the NAMI Family to Family program in my area, Dallas. Tomorrow is our second meeting. The facilitators are incredible. The quality of the study materials are way beyond expectation. The class is very well attended with a wonderful and diverse collection of family members devoted to their challenged loved one-many of those affected loved ones struggling with a substance use disorder in addition to their mental health challenge.

    I have no doubt that this (no cost) 12 week class is going to serve my goals in advocacy, my family and my spirit. Thank you for being the catalyst in this opportunity to learn more and more.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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    Dawn Higley

    September 10, 2010 at 12:51 AM

    Hi Ginnah, It’s Dawn (Piambino) Higley – I was very happy to see your brochure in our local library! 4 mothers in our area have started a monthly autism support group. I am not sure if you are aware that I deal with Autism/OCD and stress/anxiety, as well as suicidal threats with our oldest.

    If you wouldn’t mind contacting me privately, I would love to share more with you.

    Congratulations on your accomplishments! 🙂


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    Ginnah Howard

    August 9, 2010 at 6:45 PM


    I’m happy to hear you’ve been able to contact a Family-to-Family program in your area. I hope when they get back to you, that works out. I’d be interested to hear what you think of the course once you complete it if it does turn out to be something you are able to do. I think others who read these Intervene blogs would like to hear your evaluation as well.


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