Clinical depression is a potentially severe mental condition that can result in many adverse consequences for the individual who suffers and their loved ones. Unfortunately, this form of depression is common and affects millions of individuals and prevents them from living healthy, happy, and satisfying lives.
Substance abuse is common among persons suffering from a depressive disorder. Many depressed individuals resort to drug or alcohol abuse to self-medicate and escape painful thoughts and feelings. As a result, substance abuse and depression tend to feed into one another, with each condition making the other even worse.
By some estimates, approximately one-quarter of adults with a mental health disorder also have a substance use problem. When an individual suffers from both a mental health condition and substance abuse or addiction, this is referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring condition. An estimated one-third of adults who experience depression also struggle with substance abuse or addiction issues.
Clinical depression and addiction tend to pose a high risk of unintentional injury, self-harm, and suicide. Both have adverse effects on the mind and body, increasing the risk of other physical and mental health issues.
Is It Depression or Just Being Occasionally Sad?
It’s important to mention that brief periods of grief or sadness or grief are not the same as clinical depression. Clinical depression lasts for weeks, months, or years. It interferes with an individual’s ability to work or go to school, maintain healthy and functional relationships, and engage in social or enjoyable activities.
People with depression may experience many of the following symptoms daily:
- Feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Aches and pains
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Impaired concentration
- Loss of interest in activities
- Apathy (feeling unmotivated)
- Nihilism (believing life has no meaning)
- Suicidal ideations or attempts
Typically, depression manifests as feelings of sadness, low energy, and helplessness, or hopelessness. However, some individuals, especially men, experience depression as anger or hostility. Regardless of the way in which depression expresses itself, it should be apparent that this mental state is markedly different from the person’s norm.
When a person has clinical depression, daily life’s basic tasks may seem overwhelming, and the mood seemingly unending or permanent. Drinking heavily or abusing drugs might seem like an effective way to alleviate the overwhelming pain and emptiness that an individual with depression often experiences.
Depression Can Be a Gateway to Addiction
Depression often functions as a gateway to substance abuse. Those who experience adverse emotional states often use alcohol or drugs to escape or numb these emotions. Unfortunately, severely depressed people are likely to remain that way if they continue this means of self-medication rather than seeking professional help. And those who abuse drugs or alcohol chronically are at a high risk of developing a dependence or, ultimately, full-blown addiction.
Warning signs of an imminent addiction problem include the following:
Tolerance – When tolerance occurs, the brain and body have been accustomed to the substance’s presence and require ever-increasing amounts to achieve its sought-after effects.
Dependence and withdrawal – Dependence develops when the brain and body have adapted to a substance’s presence and no longer function “normally” without it. Dependence can be both physical and psychological in nature. When it occurs, a person’s attempt to quit using a substance will be met with uncomfortable mental, emotional, and physical symptoms that, in some cases, have the potential to be life-threatening.
Feelings of shame and guilt – Although a person may use a substance to feel better, they usually feel worse. They may be ashamed of their behavior and encounter intense feelings of remorse as a result.
Relapse – Cravings and withdrawal symptoms compel an individual to relapse or return to substance abuse after quitting for some time.
For some who experience depression and addiction, discontinuing the use of drugs or alcohol abruptly or “cold turkey” can worsen depression. If a person has abused substances for years to mask depressive symptoms, these may rise to the surface again in early sobriety. For this reason, it’s critical that a person receive integrated treatment for both depression and addiction concurrently.
Moreover, if the underlying root causes that drive addiction, such as depression, are left unaddressed, the risk of relapse will be much higher in the future. In some instances, people who have depression and addiction problems drop out of subpar rehab programs because sobriety feels as if it is more than they can handle without the appropriate level of therapeutic support for depression or other mental health issues.
Recovery From Depression and Substance Abuse
One of the main reasons a dual diagnosis is notoriously difficult to treat is that each disorder can exacerbate other symptoms. Substance abuse leads to emotional dysregulation, which can result in a worsening of depression. When this happens, the individual may then use more substances in a misguided effort to counteract this effect.
Indeed, there is a significant amount of complexity involved in the effective treatment of a dual diagnosis patient. It has been well-established among medical experts that those who have co-occurring disorders will not receive the care they need in a conventional, one-size-fits-all treatment program.
Only rehab programs equipped to address mental health problems will effectively facilitate detox, therapy, counseling, and aftercare planning. Such an integrated program will require the incorporation of counseling, peer group support, behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and relapse prevention related to both addiction and depression.
According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), an integrated treatment program should include the following objectives:
- Helping the individual to understand the nature of addiction AND depression
- Assuring the individual that recovery from both conditions is possible
- Motivating the individual to enact significant changes in his or her life
- Providing the individual with practical skills for managing negative thoughts and feelings
- Helping the individual to identify and alter addictive patterns of behavior
Medication therapy is often a core component of treatment for those who suffer from depression and addiction. Antidepressant drugs have helped many people who have struggled to overcome depression cope with their symptoms and promote more stable, happy, and satisfying lives. Addiction can also be addressed with other types of medications designed to curb cravings and mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
A comprehensive, well-rounded approach to treatment involving support, encouragement, and motivation is essential in the battle against depression and addiction. Clinical depression can drain an individual’s energy and make them feel that rehabilitation is a fruitless cause. However, through counseling, therapy, and group support, persons with a dual diagnosis can summon up the strength they need to maintain their recovery despite the obstacles they may encounter.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Just Believe Recovery offers customized, integrated programs intended to address addiction’s root causes and each individual’s overall mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Our programs feature therapies and activities clinically proven to be vital for the recovery process, including the following:
- Individual and group counseling
- Peer support groups
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Holistic techniques, such as yoga
- Art, music, and adventure therapy
- Aftercare planning