Mental Health Mondays: When your sister has a mental illness and is addicted to drugs

Mental illness and abusing drugs

Around 25% of adults suffer from a mental illness. I want to raise awareness about this issue, and help people understand the different aspects of living with a mental disorder a bit better. That’s why I’m launching a series of guest posts called Mental Health Mondays, where I give other people the opportunity to share their experiences with mental disorders. This week @BHeftel writes about her sister, who faces mental illness and is addicted to drugs.

It is always gut wrenching to watch someone you love slowly waste away before your eyes. It is even more so when it is of their own doing. For the past 10 or so years, I have been watching my sister on a slow downward spiral of self-destruction due to a drug dependence that started with mental illness. With this, I hope to offer some insight into the issue.


My sister’s mental illness started with a diagnosis of depression. This wasn’t all that startling, I have had episodes of clinical depression, and several extended family members also have. At that same time, she was also diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Both were completely treatable and would not interfere with having a normal life.

She only occasionally took the medication for the depression but became addicted to the painkillers she got for her auto-immune issue.

The difference was that when we suffered depression, we took the medication and went to therapy. My sister decided not to take the medication because she didn’t believe there was anything wrong with her mental health. In her eyes, the only issue she had was her auto-immune disease. She only occasionally took the medication for the depression but became addicted to the painkillers she got for her auto-immune issue.

My sister was put on a psychiatric hold at the hospital after making statements that she wanted everything to be over.

Life with my sister became a process of walking on eggshells. Small things would set her off  into rages. As her mental state worsened and her dependency on the painkillers increased, this became worse. She was put on a psychiatric hold at the hospital for the first time, after making statements that she wanted everything to be over.

My parents were able to get her to a psychologist, who then diagnosed her as being manic-depressive. She was released back into my parents’ care, with stronger meds and my mother not believing that the pain meds were being abused.

Depression statistics

Manic depression, paranoia and painkiller addiction

My sister then started doctor shopping for the pain meds she was addicted to. The manic episodes were full of her making elaborate plans for things in the future, taking classes offered through the community center and the local university. Life with her was like living with someone who constantly hopped up on caffeine during these times. In hindsight, it was a combination of the mental illness and the drugs that made her seem so hyper.

Then the crash came. When she went into a depressive stage, she became a hermit. She didn’t leave her room for days at times and she didn’t even want open the door. In addition to that, she also became convinced that the people who were trying to help her get better, were actually trying to hurt her.

She wouldn’t leave her room for days at times and was convinced that the people who were trying to help her were trying to hurt her.

The second time she was put on a psychiatric hold at the hospital was when she tried to cut herself in an effort to not take her meds. During that trip, she came away with a diagnosis of paranoia in addition to the manic-depression. That made life more difficult.

My sister was fully capable of living on her own. She had a master’s degree and had a steady job until the drugs and paranoia started taking over. My parents got the advice to let her stay with them until she had shown some progress in fighting the mental illness.

Not taking meds

In her manic stages, she would lie and say that she had taken her meds. We had to start counting the pills to make certain she was taking them. When we confronted her about not taking her meds, she would make it look as if she took them. In reality, she disposed of them or threw them up immediately afterwards.

During her manic stages, she lied about taking her meds and in her depressive stage, she didn’t take them either because she feared they would kill her.

In her depressive stage, she wouldn’t take them as she feared they would kill her. My mother believed it was the paranoia that made her not take her meds. When we told this to her doctor, he had her hospitalized again. This time, they made her take the drugs via IV. I don’t think that the medication helped her paranoia, but for a bit, she was my sister again. But when she showed progress, she was released, and the cycle of not taking the meds started all over again.

drugs and mental illness

Hard drugs

It was shortly after this that she started getting into hard drugs. She had been caught doctor shopping, and couldn’t get any refills without my mother being present. By this point, we had also learned not to trust what she said, and not to give her money. She would say just about anything to get some cash and get out of the house. During this period she was living with my parents, but would sometimes disappear for days. When she was in a manic stage, she would go out with people she had met from class, and wouldn’t return home for a few days.

The depression was so bad that we had to install a camera in her room to make sure she wasn’t harming herself. When she discovered this all hell broke loose.

Then the depression would usually take over and she would lock herself away again. The depression got so bad that my parents installed a camera in her room because they wanted to be certain that she wasn’t harming herself. This also came in handy when she disappeared, so that we had some idea of when she left.

When she discovered the camera all hell broke loose. She claimed we didn’t trust her. There was some truth to that statement, but we didn’t tell her that. Instead, we tried to explain to her that when she wouldn’t answer or open the door, we just needed some reassurance that she was ok. She claimed to never have heard out attempts to get her to come to the door and promised to always respond when asked to.

When the paranoia gets worse

My mother believed her and removed the camera. The camera was gone, and so was she. She decided it would be better to move in with a friend since we didn’t trust her. That lasted until her next depressive stage when her friend called my parents, scared out of her wits at my sisters’ behavior.

The drugs fed the paranoia, and the paranoia and depression fed the need for the drugs. The vicious circle. She no longer could hold a job and was given an allowance for disability. When the cheque came, she immediately spent money on random things, including the drugs. Then, when she couldn’t make her car payment, she begged my parents’ for money.

The drugs fed the paranoia, and the paranoia and depression fed the need for the drugs.

The paranoia got worse. One time, she called police because she thought an ex of hers had cut the fuel line in her car while she was shopping. No evidence was found, she was just out of gas. She insisted on a report being filed, which was along with a report from the officer basically contradicting what she claimed.

Later, she went back to the police station to see why her ex had not been arrested yet. When she was given a copy of the report, she became so worked up over the fact that no one believed her that she herself was arrested for threatening an officer. My mother had to come and bail her out, full of apologies and explanations.

Suicide Hotlines

Apologies and explanations

Life with my sister became that cycle of apologies and explanations. She wouldn’t show up for things she had said she would, and even missed her own son’s graduation from university because she didn’t want to leave her room. During that time she was living on her own, not far from my parents’ house, so we could check on her.

She was spending all her money on drugs, instead of downpayments, and was evicted for not paying rent.

I felt like I was a teenager again, having to “babysit” my younger sibling. Although this time, it was for her own good and I wasn’t whinging about the responsibility. She took her meds haphazardly, although my mother ensured she made it to doctor appointments. Because she was spending her money on drugs, she was evicted for not paying rent.

I was certain she was also shoplifting, but I couldn’t convince my parents about it. Then she broke into their house while they were away and stole a computer. No more apologies and explanations after that point.

How is she doing now?

My sister now lives with a man who appears to be her supplier of drugs. We can’t prove it, although we have tried showing up unannounced to catch something. We did catch something: Him beating her. Several stints in jail haven’t helped her. She goes back to this man who she trusts more than her family because he tries to give her drugs and we try to take her away from them.

We have tried getting her into rehab, which would give her the drugs she needs while trying to get her off the drug she doesn’t need. It could be an interruption in the vicious circle. She could start fresh. But she never makes it. Being an adult, she can only go to rehab on a voluntary basis. And as soon as she thinks she is “better” she removes herself from the program.

We tried getting her into rehab, so she could get a fresh start, but she never makes it. Our only hope is that she gets hospitalized again, so she can be forced into going to rehab.

My sister is four years younger than me. When she was last arrested, I received a copy of the photo of her from the police and she now looks 15 years older than me. Her mental illness may be beyond the treatment stage at this point. Her paranoia keeps her within a small circle of people which doesn’t include family. She only contacts us when she needs money for something. We can’t take her out of the place she is living, since she wants to stay there. Our only hope is that she is hospitalized again and we can get a ruling for an involuntary placement in rehab.

Meanwhile, the downward spiral of the vicious circle continues.

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  1. That is so sad to hear. Thank you for opening up the conversation about mental illness. It should not be shunned by society like it is so much. Anxiety and depression run in my family and I wish we could talk about it more, even amongst ourselves with the stigma attached to it. You’re a brave soul. 🙂

  2. Coping with a loved one with mental health problems is hard. I suffer with depression and ptsd and my husband really struggles sometimes. Sending my love. Xx

  3. Thank you for sharing your story, there are many misconceptions about mental illness and no one fully understands the affects they can have no just on the individual but the family as well. Hopefully one day your sister gets the help she needs.

  4. Such a powerful post! I also suffer from depression, but nothing on this sort of scale. Thanks so much for opening up about your sister, I will now always take the meds I’m prescribed to avoiding the same thing happening in my family. I hope your sister finds the help she needs!

  5. It’s so so hard to hear about people’s experiences but they’re stories that need to be told because to break the stigma the silence has to be broken. It takes courage to share something so deeply personal, so thank-you x

  6. I can only imagine how this feels. And I thought my brother was bad because he couldn’t find job for some time. But unfortunately, this isn’t her fault. It’s an illness and their should be more ways to help her than wait for her to get hospitalized. These stories are just saying how much we need to work on this planet.

  7. God that is so sad, my heart breaks for you both. I have suffered with severe depression and anxiety since I was sixteen if not younger and it never gets any easier, you just get better at hiding how you feel. Fingers crossed the path becomes smoother, if you would like a guest post from me I would love to write one xx

  8. Its really sad to know that people are hooked on drugs. i know so many friends that suffer from depression and are on medication but support from friends and family and they are now better. More power and support to you