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The Co-Occurring Disorders of Substance Abuse and Depression

Suffering

Addiction and mental health issues often go hand in hand and it can be difficult to tell which came first. In order to successfully treat addiction, mental health issues must also be addressed.

Major depressive disorder is more than the blues or feeling down. It’s not something that a person can “snap out of” or “get over” by force of will. It is a common and serious medical condition that impacts the way you think, feel, and act. Symptoms include feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, and empty. You may experience persistent sadness and tiredness. You may have trouble sleeping, or you may want to sleep all the time. You might gain or lose weight, and you might lose interest in activities that you used to enjoy.

To cope with these feelings, you may start to drink or use drugs, or use these substances more often or in greater quantities. You would like to cut back or quit, but you can’t. Now you have added addiction to the issues you face. You have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder: major depressive and substance use disorders.

You Are Not Alone

You are not the only one to struggle with a co-occurring disorder–far from it. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), in 2018 nearly 9.2 million people in the United States were diagnosed with both substance use disorder and a mental health issue. A dual diagnosis of depression and substance abuse puts people at an increased risk of suicide as well as social and personal impairment.

Links Between Depression and Substance Abuse

While it is not completely accurate to say that one condition causes the other, and it can be difficult to say which disorder came first, the depression or the addiction, there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and major depressive disorder. People with depression often use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. While this can bring relief in the short term, in the long term, substance abuse usually makes depression worse. It is also thought that substance abuse can cause symptoms of depression. Additionally, drugs or alcohol can interact with antidepressants, making them less effective.

Treating Depression and Substance Abuse

In the past, many drug and alcohol treatment centers only focused on treating addiction. This meant that any mental health issues that may have contributed to the addiction went unaddressed, setting the person up for relapse when the next crisis came along. Fortunately, many facilities now treat both substance use disorder and any mental health issues that the person may have. If the patient’s addiction is to be treated effectively, the depression must be treated as well. Otherwise, the patient may not be able to maintain a life of sobriety. 

If you are looking for a treatment center and you have major depressive disorder and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, look for a center that is licensed to treat co-occurring disorders. The center should involve you in goal setting for your treatment plan, provide education about both disorders, and teach you the life skills that you need to manage both.

Effective Self-Help

While no self-help measures can take the place of professional help, there are steps you can take to make your symptoms more manageable.

Learn techniques to reduce stress levels. Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but you can become better at managing it. Meditation and deep breathing techniques can be very helpful. If you are new to meditation, there are many apps you can find to guide you through the process.

Learn what triggers you to drink or use drugs. Recognize these triggers and use strategies to cope with them without using drugs or alcohol.

Be aware of your health. Exercise for 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week. Eat nutritious food and get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

Do something for someone else. Volunteer with a non-profit organization in your community. Take in the trash cans for a neighbor. Fix a meal for someone who is ill or has had a death in the family. Doing something for someone else will take the focus off of your own difficulties and will make you feel better. Helping other people either individually or through an organization will give you a sense of purpose and a reason to get up in the morning.

Having the dual diagnosis of major depression and substance use disorder can seem overwhelming, but with professional mental health treatment and self-help measures, you will find relief and recovery.

At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that substance abuse frequently has at its roots a mental health issue like depression. It is imperative to treat the mental health issues as well as the addiction as the needs of the whole person must be addressed in order for treatment to be effective. Enlightened Solutions offers a comprehensive recovery program rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. We create a custom treatment plan for each patient based on their needs and goals for recovery. We offer traditional psychotherapy as well as a host of alternative therapies that include sound healing, art and music therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic work, massage, yoga and meditation classes, equine therapy, and family constellation therapy.  We are located on the southern shore of New Jersey. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, and looking for a place to begin their journey of recovery, call us at (833) 801-5483.