Many people deal with two foes at the same time: depression and addiction. Understanding why these two disorders occur simultaneously and how they can be treated can help people to undo the damage they cause in their lives.
Destructive Coping Skills
Sadness is part of the human experience. Disappointments, tragedies and loss impact each person at some point in life. Sadness is the appropriate response to life’s challenges, and most people can move through grief in healthy ways and find happiness again. But for those who struggle with depression, a low mood can least for weeks, months and even years. Along with feelings of sadness that last for more than two weeks, major, or clinical depression can cause additional symptoms. Some of these include:
- Feelings of uselessness or hopelessness
- Difficulty with concentration or memory
- Suicidal thoughts
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness each year, and 16 million of those had at least one major depressive episode. More than 20 million adults in America deal with a substance abuse disorder, and more than half of those had a co-occurring mental illness.1 As these statistics make clear, depression is a serious issue that many people attempt to medicate with drugs and alcohol. These substances seem to provide a boost to the brain, helping the person to feel slightly better, if only for a moment. If the brain adapts to the presence of drugs, the brain reacts with depressive symptoms when the substance is withdrawn. In short, people who lean on addictive drugs to control depression may end up making their symptoms worse.
Addressing the Issue
It’s common for addiction and depression to appear in a person at the same time. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that more than 8 million adults 18 or older struggled with substance abuse and mental illness in the past year. Of those, only half received mental health care or substance abuse treatment.2 While many programs might provide some treatments for addiction that could also be used to control depression, programs that specialize in the simultaneous treatment of co-occurring disorders are the best option.3 Through the help of these programs, people learn about addictions and mental illnesses and are more likely to achieve a level of control that isn’t possible with standard addiction treatment alone.
Co-occurring disorder programs begin with an assessment that uses a series of psychological tests. The results of these tests allow therapists to understand the severity and duration of the depression. Addiction specialists and therapists can then build a treatment program tailored to the specific needs of the individual.
The Role of Medications
Since major depression is caused, in part, by changes in the chemistry of the brain, medications prescribe by consulting physicians may be helpful for some people. Antidepressants can boost the production of brain chemicals associated with positive moods and reduce those associated with anxiety. People with major depression may need these medications in order to fully focus on treatment. Research shows that a combination of medication, psychotherapy, group therapy and holistic treatments produce the best results.
Those who use antidepressants must guard against abusing the substance in any way. Combining these medications with alcohol and other drugs can cause serious side effects such as:
- A lack of physical coordination
- Extreme sedation and drowsiness
- A spike in blood pressure
- A worsening of depressive symptoms4
Antidepressant medications often require weeks to become fully effective. Skipping a dose could mean starting the adjustment process all over again. One should not stop taking medications or different doses unless advised by consulting physicians.
Harnessing the Mind
During treatment for co-occurring disorders, therapists use techniques to help clients learn how to identify and change negative thought patterns. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy clients are asked to identify the thoughts that typically fill their minds before they take a sip of alcohol or snort a line of drugs. Clients are then asked to break these thoughts apart, challenging their validity instead of assuming they are true. Instead of reacting to the negative thought, clients learn to change the way they think.
Some clients benefit from mindfulness-based therapies. These therapies have their roots in traditional Eastern medicine, allowing people the opportunity to simply observe their thoughts and feelings without judging them as either right or wrong. There’s no need to act on negative impressions, as it’s enough to simply acknowledge them and let them float away. Mindfulness therapy encourages people to use exercises such as meditation, stretching and breathing in order to gain control of their negative thoughts and emotions.
Treatment programs might also encourage clients to use yoga to calm their minds and achieve a sense of peace and relaxation. Even art therapy or journaling can be beneficial by providing a distraction from depression and a sense of control. Anything that allows the person to break a negative thought cycle without resorting to drugs of abuse can be a valuable tool in the fight against addiction and depression.
Finding Help for Depression and Addiction
While it’s true that people suffering from addiction and depression have a more complicated treatment process, recovery is possible. At Michael’s House, we specialize in providing co-occurring disorder programs for both men and women. Our integrated treatment approach provides hope and healing from addiction and mental illness simultaneously. Our facility, located in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains in California, provides a hacienda-style campus that’s been described as the perfect place to find peace and serenity. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.
1 “Mental Health by the Numbers.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed 25 Feb. 2018.
2 “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States:Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA. Sept. 2017.
3 “Co-Occurring Disorders.” Psychology Today. 25 Jan. 2018.
4 Hall-Flavin, M.D. Daniel K. “Antidepressants and alcohol: What’s the concern?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 9 June 2017.
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