Learning how to cope during particularly stressful events in life—and we all experience them—isn’t one of those instinctual mechanisms our brains came equipped to handle. The flood of racing thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, and emotional ups and down are hard for even the most mentally prepared to deal with. For many, this is when substance use can take over. But there is hope and help.

“We’re here for those struggling with substance use and we utilize a whole person approach,” said Shannon Kronlund, Northwestern Mental Health Center outpatient treatment director. “It’s vital to understanding each individual’s protective and risk factors so we can provide the most effective care and treatment which results in higher success rates.”

NWMHC is a behavioral health center that provides a variety of services, including mental health treatment, crisis response, supportive housing and help with early childhood development. It’s substance use disorder treatment helps individuals ages 10 and older. The team also works with community and statewide partners when more intensive outpatient or inpatient treatments are needed.

The center’s whole person approach, or biopsychosocial approach, to helping those suffering from a substance use disorder involves treating the biological, psychological, and social factors of a person’s life and their complex interactions. This includes considering a person’s brain characteristics, environmental stressors and emotional or physical trauma they’ve endured.

These factors can all play a role in creating mental health issues and hindering how they’re dealt with by the individual. It’s not uncommon for people diagnosed with a mental health disorder to also have a substance use problem. In 2018, The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimated that there were 9.2 million adults in the U.S. suffering from these co-occurring disorders, which professionals all term as dual diagnosis.

“This is one of the reasons recovery does not and should not happen alone,” Denison said. “Our entire team at Northwestern Mental Health Center understands this and is dedicated to treating not just the substance use disorder, but the whole person. For many professionals here, that also means they’re treating substance abuse alongside a mental health issue.”

With the whole person approach, professionals like those at NWMHC provide low intensity individual and group treatment for substance use disorders as well as outpatient care for mental health issues. Several of the providers are trained in dual diagnosis treatment. The facility also is equipped with several nurse practitioners who can administer medication assisted therapy, which may help recovery for some.

“People may find that the use of drugs or alcohol provides them a brief relief from the overwhelming feelings they carry around,” Kronlund said. “They may not have another coping skill they find works as ‘effectively’ in the moment and as a result, a pattern of use can be established.”

Those who are struggling may also find that substance use provides a faster result than coping skills that are new or unfamiliar to them, and to get relief quickly, they continue to use substances.

“It’s common for people to turn to substance use as a coping mechanism, whether it’s alcohol, methamphetamines or marijuana,” said Janet Denison, Northwestern Mental Health Center chief clinical officer. “Often during challenging times we may have increased stress and this can test the person’s use of healthier coping skills and their use of supports and connections.”

Treatment not only helps individuals deal with the short-term issues, but it also equips them with the skills for long-term success. Those in recovery also avoid the future health effects of long-term substance use, such as liver damage, vitamin deficiencies, paranoia, stroke and increased cancer risks.

“We focus on helping individuals as well as their families find hope and a path to wellness,” Denison said. “Our staff approaches care from a non-judgmental standpoint, putting the client first.”

In addition to professional help, there are many things people can do to improve their wellbeing and overall outlook on life. These include:

  • Being aware of and communicating feelings
  • Connect with family and friends
  • Knowing what is and is not in a person’s control
  • Eating healthy, well balanced meals
  • Exercise 
  • Getting adequate and quality sleep
  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Making time for hobbies and various interests
  • Relaxation such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga
  • Setting limits to decrease stress and knowing it’s okay to say “No”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, whether it’s  isolating from others, or neglecting work or family obligations, the caring team at Northwestern Mental Health Center is here to help. Call us today at 218-281-3940.

There is help and there is hope.

Shannon Kronlund, MSW, LICSW serves as the Outpatient Treatment Director for Northwestern Mental Health Center. She sees children, adults, and families and specializes in the treatment of trauma, depression, and anxiety.

Janet Denison, MSW, LICSW, LADC serves as the Chief Clinical Officer for Northwestern Mental Health Center. In addition to her administrative role, she sees adult clients with a specialized focus on co-occurring disorders.