The Relationship Between Addiction and Depression
What is Depression?
Clinical depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. It can be expressed as severe emotional and/or physical ailments that negatively impact a person’s ability to function. Depression is characterized by a variety of symptoms that persist most of the day, every day, for at least 2 weeks and significantly affect a person’s daily life.4
Depressive disorders fall into many different categories. Some of the most common ones include: 5
- Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia), often referred to as chronic depression.
- Major Depressive Disorder, often referred to as clinical depression.
- Postpartum Depression.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression can wreak havoc on a person’s professional and personal life if left untreated. Diminished concentration and an inability to make decisions can cause ramifications at work. Wanting to withdraw and lacking the ability to emotionally connect with friends or family can ruin personal relationships. In some people, depression looks like anger, while others just want to sleep. People experience it differently, which is why there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. 6
The following is a list of common symptoms of depression. While not every person will experience every symptom, many of the same symptoms could also be warning signs of addiction:6
- Persistent sad, anxious, or empty feeling
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping either more or less than usual)
- Digestive issues
- Loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide
Are Depression and Addiction Connected?
Many people are diagnosed with depression, but some do not seek treatment, and the depression remains undiagnosed. It’s not uncommon for people to try to “take the edge off” or self-medicate with what they have on hand.10 Alcohol and prescription drugs are often what people turn to in order to cope when they feel stressed, sad, anxious, or depressed.
Alcohol and drugs typically provide an immediate sense of relief. But over time, they can have the opposite or other negative effects. As a person builds tolerance to a particular substance and forms habits based around that substance, they can eventually develop an addiction, coupled with the original pain they were trying to avoid in the first place by self-medicating. At that point, it becomes unclear if a person has signs of depression because they are suffering from addiction or if their substance abuse is why they are struggling with depression.11
This is particularly concerning when it comes to alcohol, notably because it is so accessible and socially acceptable. Alcohol has what is called a biphasic effect on the body, which means it causes two different physical effects. In small amounts, it can induce feelings of relaxation and euphoria. However, in larger amounts, it has the opposite effect and can induce depression and fatigue and negatively impact the part of our brain that deals with decision-making.11
Problems arise when someone who is taking medication to mitigate depression also uses alcohol or certain recreational drugs. For example, alcohol and antidepressants can potentially have similar side effects—fatigue, dizziness, and feelings of sadness or emptiness—so those feelings could be intensified.12
Genetics and environmental factors both play a role in depression and addiction. Addiction is a complex disease, and the heritability of addiction has been researched for decades. It is still not fully understood, but there is evidence to indicate that while a close genetic relative who suffers from addiction is not necessarily a determinant for a person to develop an addiction themselves, it may indicate a predisposition towards addiction. Environmental factors also play a significant role in addiction, namely in the availability of addictive substances, which are determined by many factors such as culture, religion, socioeconomic factors, and lifestyle choices.13
It is especially complicated when you consider that people who have co-occurring disorders, like addiction and depression, may also have cognitive limitations as well. Since abstinence from substances requires the development and implementation of new habits and recovery skills, people who have cognitive limitations may have a harder time learning those new skills.14
Imagine someone who struggles with depression, tries to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, and eventually ends up struggling with depression and a substance use disorder. Suppose they get treatment for their addiction and are able to regain their sobriety. They are still left needing to address and treat their depression, but now they have disrupted their brain chemistry and function as a result of their substance use. At that point, they may not be prepared mentally or physically to tackle treatment for depression while cultivating new coping strategies necessary to the recovery process.
Integrated Treatment for Depression and Addiction
Treatment for co-occurring disorders, also referred to as dual diagnosis treatment, is designed for people who have a mental health disorder and substance use disorder occurring simultaneously. There are many things to consider in this type of treatment, as multiple services need to be integrated. Screenings and assessments, availability and oversight of medication, communication between multiple health care providers, education and group work addressing mental health and substance use disorders, as well as family education and counseling all need to be taken into account during treatment.
It is vital that counseling provided to clients who have co-occurring disorders incorporates techniques to address an increased probability of high-risk behaviors prevalent among people who have substance use disorders. These include driving under the influence, having unprotected sex, and/or stealing. In addition, consider the fact that people with addiction have often harmed relationships with friends and family and may not have the social support that is so important during treatment and ongoing recovery. Or, they may also be unemployed with no safe place to live or in an unstable relationship.14
Some of the most effective courses of treatment for depression and addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. CBT helps people recognize negative thought patterns and cultivate new behaviors to address their feelings. Medications, like the ones previously mentioned, have proven beneficial to treat depression in some people. Naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors in the brain so the euphoric effects of certain substances are no longer felt, can help inhibit cravings when people are detoxing from substances like alcohol or opioids. 15
While behavioral therapy and medications can each be helpful on their own, the combination of both provides a more integrated approach to the multi-layered aspects of treatment and recovery in people with co-occurring disorders.
Finding a Local Integrated Treatment Program
If you or someone you know is diagnosed with a mental health disorder and also struggling with substance abuse, integrated treatment can help. It is important to talk to a physician or treatment provider who can objectively assess the situation and discuss appropriate treatment options.
American Addiction Centers is a leader in providing quality integrated treatment in Nevada and nationwide. The staff provides medically managed detoxification, inpatient care, and outpatient treatment options. They are knowledgeable and compassionate and work with people to create individualized treatment plans to aid in the recovery process.The Desert Hope Treatment Center in Las Vegas, Nevada helps those struggling with co-occurring disorders and provides ongoing support and accountability for those in recovery with a 24/7 helpline for free and confidential assistance. For more information about addiction, treatment options, locations, and admissions, call us and speak with our team for more information.
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