Your life isn’t turning out exactly how you imagined it would. First, there was the depression, lethargy, and lack of willpower that made each day a fog. Then, your closest friends and loved ones began to drift away—or was it you that shut them out? It’s hard to remember. Then, the final blow: your diabetes diagnosis. You’ve suffered—and it’s enough to make anyone feel like they’ve hit rock bottom. It’s during this period that you become most susceptible to addiction.
Many people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses find solace in an altered state. No matter your substance of choice, the goal is the same: to numb feelings of sadness, isolation, or anxiety brought on by disease. Addiction is dangerous and physically damaging for anyone, but for individuals with diabetes, the effects are compounded.
For one, there’s the issue of the substance itself, and its chemical reaction in your body. An alcohol binge can cause blood sugars to go out of control, sending you to the hospital. Cannabis use has been linked with hyperglycemia, a common problem for people with diabetes. Nicotine has been shown to trigger blood sugar boosts in smokers with diabetes. Cocaine can suppress the feeling of hunger and disturb sleep patterns, which can lead to hypoglycemia. This list goes on.
In addition to the biological effects, the mental effects of heavy substance use make managing your diabetes difficult. The cognitive interference brought on by drug and alcohol use makes it hard for individuals with diabetes to listen to their bodies; you may think that you’re feeling a high blood sugar when you’re experiencing low blood sugar. You may become apathetic and act irresponsibly: drugs take people out of reality, where they no longer care about anything except for staying or getting high. You also may not eat the right food to cover your insulin or oral medication dose, or take the correct dose of insulin to cover the food you are eating.
Chemical addiction or dependency often has a psychological source that must be addressed before healing can begin. While overcoming a chemical dependency is incredibly difficult, regular therapy sessions can make it easier. With the help of a trained professional, you can explore the source of your psychological distress and discover new ways to cope with anxiety or depression, like exercise, meditation, and regular self-reflection.
For some people, prescription medication is a necessary piece of addiction treatment and recovery. If you feel as though you are self-medicating for an undiagnosed psychological problem, talk to a mental health professional about your options.
What are your healthy coping mechanisms? Share them in our comments section!
Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.