Treating Addiction Is Not Always a Cure for Treating Mental Illness: An Interview With Howard Samuels


9781118364413_cover.inddI’ve long been interested in the connection between mental health and addiction because the worlds of recovery are so similar and yet so different. One of my biggest frustrations in addiction recovery circles is the lack of awareness of mental health–especially the physiological nature that threatens lives. And many depressed folks don’t take seriously enough the addictive nature of sedatives in their pursuit of sanity. So I was happy to interview Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D., author of “Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction” and the founder and president of the prestigious The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles. An internationally renowned recovery expert, Dr. Samuels appears regularly on national TV news shows about the challenges of drug addiction.

Question: Why is Treating Addiction Not Always a Cure for Treating Mental Illness? 

Well, you may have addiction and alcoholism on one hand, but I can tell you, at my facility, we discover many alcoholics also have a chemical imbalance which, if you want to get technical, falls under the category of mental illness. We call these dual-diagnosed patients. And when dealing with a dual-diagnosed patient, the first thing you have to treat is the addiction; because the only way you’re going to get to the mental illness and be able to figure out what it is, is to get the individual clean and sober. It is only in this space that we can do the work and diagnose what kind of mental illness (if any) the patient is afflicted with.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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3 Responses
  1. We all have these very deep, mostly quite forgotten, damaging emotional conflicts that persist below the level of our consciousness. These conflicts gave our emotions violent twists which discolored our personality and altered our lives for the worse. Take away the addiction agent and these are left, in all of us.
    Treating addiction is the beginning of treating the mental/emotional issues for almost everyone I have ever seen get sober.
    I also cant say that I agree that no narcotics for those who cant sleep yet are addicts. Go without sleep for days and we will go crazier than we already are.

  2. Joyce

    I did not find this article helpful. Having gone through what I have I just can’t match up the author’s proclamations with the real life I have gone through.

  3. Joyce,
    Having seen the damage that the emotional wounds people carry not be addressed by the 12 step programs, I can tell you that it is articles like this which do a disservice to recovery in my book. We all have emotional issues which cause the need to escape from the reality we were in.
    I know many, many people with depressive symptoms that dont understand that taking away the drink takes away the release valve for all of that energy we carry.
    I would invite you too look at a blog I created for the issue of depression in sobriety.
    It is at