Dissociation and Active Addiction

Dissociation is a common part of active addiction. Substance use disorder (SUD) and dissociation can both be causes of one another, making them part of a self-perpetuating cycle. We will discuss dissociation, how it relates to substance use, and what individuals can do if they are experiencing either or both of these disorders.

What Is Dissociation?

Dissociation is a mental process by which a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or self-identity, usually caused by trauma. People who suffer from dissociative episodes without treatment can experience a number of complications. Such complications can include the following:

  • Life challenges such as broken relationships or job loss
  • Sleep problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Eating disorders
  • Problems with substance use
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation 

A myriad of severe complications can come from untreated dissociation. Studies have shown that the more dissociative experiences someone has, the more likely they are to believe that these symptoms can be treated with substances. However, this is not true.

Dissociative disorders cannot be overcome with substances. Not only is this way of thinking false, but the opposite is also actually true. Excessive substance use can cause dissociative episodes. So while people use substances thinking they can help, they are making things worse.

Disassociation can be challenging to diagnose. In addition, since the symptoms are so complex, people who generally suffer from this also have other mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. This overlap makes diagnosis and treatment more complicated.

Dissociation With Substances

Using substances can cause dissociative episodes. These episodes may seem minor but can have dangerous repercussions. Anyone who is experiencing any of these symptoms should consider seeking treatment.

Blackout Drinking

This is probably the most widely understood dissociative episode related to substance use. It comes from drinking too much alcohol to the point where a person "blacks out." This means there is a time gap in which they have little to no memory of what transpired or what they did. 

Blackout drinking can be hazardous mentally and physically. Individuals are still responsible for the actions they make even though they don't remember any of them. In this state, an individual could have damaged relationships or property without knowing.

Attention Deficit

Too-low attention may not be as well known as a method of dissociating, but it is still widespread. This is most often seen in the amount of a substance someone consumes. For example, they may start drinking alcohol, and before they notice they have dissociated, they realize they drank more than they remember.

Attention deficit in this manner is likely related to having SUD. The areas of an individual's brain most affected by addiction want to consume as much as possible, but the individual may not necessarily want the same. The brain may then dissociate so it can have more of the substance without the individual genuinely being aware of it. 

This, like blacking out, is dangerous. It can lead not only to the adverse side effects that come from consumption but can also lead to an overdose.

Psychedelic Substances

Unsurprisingly, psychedelic substances can also cause dissociative episodes. Unlike alcohol, it does not take a significant amount for this to happen. These mind-altering substances almost invariably cause some disconnection, whether from the person's thoughts, feelings, memories, or sense of self, and should be avoided for this reason.

Signs to Look Out For

There are many signs to look out for when it comes to dissociation and substance use. The results can be disastrous if substances come into play as a cause or result of dissociation. To learn more, contact a therapist. 

As mentioned earlier, dissociation can lead to numerous complications, especially problems involving anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It is very common for people to try to treat these issues with substances. When individuals suffer from numerous dissociative episodes and SUD, they have a dual diagnosis.

Seeking Help

The best way to treat disassociation is through therapy and prescription medication. Those who suffer from a dissociative disorder you should seek professional help immediately. Similarly, those who use substances and have experienced a dissociative episode may need to seek treatment for SUD. 

Dissociation and substance use can cause terrifying experiences. This is especially true for blackouts. Not knowing what one did or how one got home the night before can be a real wake-up call. 

Some people might take certain substances, like psychedelics, expressly to dissociate. Usually, they are used so the person can escape from feelings of anxiety or depression, or even trauma. This can be just as harmful as blacking out with alcohol.  

Luckily there are ways that both conditions can be treated. Furthermore, these disorders do not have to consume one's life; anyone can recover from these problems.

Trying to work through active addiction can be a difficult task on its own and even harder for those who struggle with dissociation. Knowing what to do or where to go for help can be challenging. That is where NorthStar Transitions comes into play. Our experienced staff can help you and the ones you care about to navigate healing from SUD and dissociative disorders. We offer support for anyone looking to experience recovery. If you are or know someone who is in need of treatment, look no further than NorthStar Transitions. You can take the first steps toward healing by calling us today at (303) 558-6400 to find out more.

Search Blog Posts
Back to blog
Call 866-407-2240
Verify Insurance