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Mental Health's Role in Addiction and Recovery

The majority of people Liz Wetmore and the team see at Huntsman Mental Health Institute's Addiction Recovery Services are self-referred, an important part of addiction recovery. Wetmore, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, says, "We really need people to take that first step and call us. We're here to be a support, to be understanding. They get enough blame. We support them in a way that will allow them to find success."

The University of Utah Health HMHI Addiction Recovery Services team of therapists, case managers, and physicians work to understand the root causes of your substance abuse, assessing for underlying mental health concerns. Team members follow the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria and treatment process.

Addiction treatment is offered at three different levels:

  • Inpatient detoxification - medical treatment to minimize withdrawal discomfort; daily meetings with addiction psychiatrist and treatment team; and daily group therapy
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP) - group therapy 4x/week; regular treatment team check-ins; and aftercare groups
  • Recovery clinic - medication management with prescriber specializing in addictions; individual therapy

Wetmore says group therapy helps people build a new sober community and see that they are not alone in their experience. "The main thing we hear," says Wetmore, "is 'Your story sounds just like mine!'"

The Mental Health Connection

Addiction recovery isn't straightforward. That's what makes the initial assessment and diagnosis so important. Studies show approximately 50 percent of people with substance use disorders also have an underlying mental health disorder.

"Addiction and mental health often go hand in hand because using a substance is a way to self-medicate difficult aspects of mental health," says Wetmore. She notes, "It's common to see participants struggling with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Treatment for these is just as important as addiction treatment."

Once a week, participants are invited to bring family members to group therapy. Wetmore says, "What we find is people who bring family into group end up better understood and supported by their family. It's like they realize, 'Oh, you aren't just doing this to upset me, there's more going on here'"

There are several group therapy formats—process, art, music, recreational—to get you out of your isolated comfort zone and trying new things in a supportive environment. Wetmore says this is important because that's often when the urge to use drugs or alcohol arises-when uncomfortable emotions are triggered.

When is Substance Use a Problem?

"The way we diagnose addiction is really based on how a substance is impacting your life," says Wetmore. "It's not just how much you use and how often."

Is the substance:

  • Affecting your work?
  • Impacting your relationships?
  • Causing legal problems?
  • Creating financial problems?
  • Replacing things that you used to enjoy doing?

"The brain eventually reprioritizes what's important," says Wetmore, "and puts the substance on top, because it gives the most immediate chemical response."

About 25 to 50 percent of the time participants have one relapse, according to Wetmore, with the majority going on to successfully finish the program. Weekly and random lab tests track progress. If someone does relapse, Wetmore says more support is wrapped around them and time is spent digging into how they got there.

"We strongly believe in the ability of people to improve from both a mental health and a substance use standpoint, because we've seen it. When they are not finding success, we attempt to expand resources to help them."

If you or someone you know wants to learn more, contact HMHI Addiction Recovery Services at 801-583-2500.