Mental illness, substance-use disorder often occur together

Julia Chapman knows her mental illness played a role in heroin use

  • Keira McGuire

Every day, Julia Chapman feels guilty about the way her son, Harlyn, came into the world. Julia struggled with heroin addiction for about four years, and her son was born addicted.

Julia remembers the last time she used heroin. She was five months pregnant at a gas station. She overdosed. Julia was arrested and put in jail for a probation violation. After that, she started a buprenorphine program, which she continued for the remainder of her pregnancy.

Some may hear Julia’s story and leave it at opioid addiction, but it goes much deeper. Before Julia was addicted to heroin, she was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety, night terrors and ADHD. And, before Julia had a mental illness diagnosis, she had been abused as a child.

When Julia tried heroin for the first time and couldn’t walk away, she became one of the over 7 million Americans with a mental health disorder and substance-use disorder. At first, Julia liked the effect heroin had on her mental health. She says she felt calm and stress-free.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance-use disorder and vice versa.

Julia has now been clean for about eight months. She recently completed a 16-week intensive outpatient program for co-occurring disorders. Soon, she’ll begin training to become a certified family recovery specialist.

Harlyn is doing great. In the future, Julia is hoping to teach him about her experiences, so he can work through problems instead of turning to drugs.


This story is part of Transforming Health and PA Post’s mental health series Through the Cracks, which seeks to locate problems in Pa. mental health services and break down stigma by sharing personal accounts.

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