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Some Important Lessons from Robin Williams’ Death

Posted on :  September 8th, 2014  |  By :  towardsrecovery

The recent news of Robin Williams’ tragic death serves as a reminder for all of us dealing with addiction and depression. Although his widow, Susan Schneider, said the comedic actor’s sobriety was intact, his battle with drug and alcohol abuse was a never-ending struggle. Some important lessons we can learn is that an addict is always in recovery, and mental illness, such as depression, often goes hand-in-hand with addiction.

What is meant by “always in recovery?”

As so many recovered addicts will tell you, “recovery is a journey, not a destination.” There is no exact “finish line” to cross where one is declared officially recovered. The potential for substance abuse is constantly there, so in effect, one is “always in recovery.”

Although an addict may not have used drugs or alcohol for quite some time (even years), there is always the possibility of a relapse. Robin Williams himself was sober for 20 years until he relapsed in 2006.

While some people overcome addiction without experiencing a relapse, the triggers and temptations to start up again always exist. In many instances, a small, apparently harmless incident can cause a person to start using again. For Robin Williams, it began with a simple trip to the store while shooting a movie. His eyes fell on a tiny bottle of whiskey when that little voice went off in his head. Seemingly okay after drinking the first one, things eventually escalated, landing him back in rehab in 2006.

This incident just goes to show that “always in recovery” is a very real phenomenon. Williams proved it again when he visited the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesotain July of this year.

Mental illness and addiction

Rarely is addiction an isolated issue. Drug and alcohol abuse often coexists with mental illness. Substance abusers often experience depression, anxiety or other psychological disorders. Meanwhile, many mentally ill people have ongoing drug and alcohol problems. Mental illness and addiction are closely related.

A person suffering from depression or anxiety may choose to “self-medicate” by drinking or taking drugs in order to feel better. Eventually, this can lead to dependency and addiction. By the same token, someone without mental illness may find that these addictive substances cause behavioural changes, which may turn into psychological issues.

The connection between mental illness and addiction is complex, sometimes resembling the “chicken or the egg” question. Whether underlying conditions like depression or anxiety lead to substance abuse or whether drugs and alcohol promote mental issues is hard to discern. However, what is most important to understand that a relationship exists — and to get treatment for both.

In recent months, Robin Williams was battling depression, which led him to reenter that 12-step program at Hazelden. Whether his ongoing depression or the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease was a trigger for substance abuse, no one can say for sure, but it seems likely they were related.

What Else Can We Learn from Robin Williams?

Robin Williams’ suicide also serves as a reminder that substance abuse, along with preexisting condition like depression, can be a deadly combination.

Drug and alcohol abuse is a very real factor in suicide. While under the influence, a person’s judgment is severely impaired, which can lead to rash actions and impulsive behaviours — including taking one’s life.

If you suspect someone is suffering from depression and/or substance abuse and is threatening suicide, it is crucial that you seek immediate assistance. Calling a suicide prevention hotline is the best option for help.

Robin Williams’ passing was a huge loss for his fans. It is sad to think that a man who made so many people laugh struggled with so much sadness and addiction. Hopefully, we can all learn that those who are struggling with substance abuse and mental conditions deserve our love and support.

If you or anyone you know wishes to seek help for addiction, and live in or around Hamilton, St. Catharines, or Brantford, Ontario, contact Towards Recovery on 519-579-0589 to locate your nearest clinic.

Make sure you have an unexpired OHIP card or call 1-866-532-3161 to find out how to get one.

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