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The common connection between drug abuse and mental illness

A lot has happened in 2016, including a significant number of celebrity deaths. The most recent was actress Carrie Fisher, who is most famous for playing Princess Leia in Star Wars. She died of complications related to a heart attack.

While most people might not have known this about her, Fisher was an advocate - in word and example - for those suffering from mental illness, drug addiction or both. The details of her life are a reminder that conversations about drug use and abuse are not always as simple as slogans like "just say no."

There is often a strong connection between mental illness and drug addiction/alcoholism. In a 2013 interview, Fisher noted that she developed bipolar disorder around age 14 or 15, an illness which her father also had. But she would not be diagnosed until she was in her 20s. In the intervening years, she began using drugs and alcohol, sometimes with her father.

While not true in all cases, it is common for individuals with undiagnosed mood disorders to begin abusing drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. Fisher said she once told her doctor that she "felt normal on acid," and her doctor said that was consistent with what the medical profession understood about the manic state that occurs with bipolar disorder.

Later in life, Fisher experienced a severe manic episode while working as an entertainer on a cruise ship. Her behavior became so erratic and odd that many passengers assumed she was either drunk or high on drugs. Thankfully, she was aided by some members of Alcoholics Anonymous whom she had recently met at meetings on the cruise ship. They were able to get her off the stage with minimal incident, and she checked into a neuropsychiatric hospital within a day or two afterward.

Drug and alcohol abuse can lead to serious criminal charges for drug possession, drunk driving and other offenses. While it is necessary to hold people accountable for their actions, we (as a society) also need to understand that drug and alcohol abuse are not always the result of conscious, irresponsible choices. As such, addiction treatment and other prosecution alternatives are sometimes more appropriate than fines and incarceration.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges related to drugs or alcohol, please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can advocate for your best interests in and out of the courtroom.

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