Depression and substance abuse are so closely linked that scientists still haven’t decided if one causes the other. Lots of people who struggle with substance abuse also have a mental health problem that makes alcohol or drug addiction even harder to manage. Untreated co-occurring disorders are a major cause of relapse because seeking addiction treatment without getting help for any preexisting mental disorders leaves too many stones unturned.

Getting help for the triggers that lead to abusing drugs or alcohol is essential for the recovery process. Individuals with mental health problems might be more sensitive or have triggers they’re not even aware are problematic. Proper treatment for dual diagnosis can be the difference between relapse and long-term sobriety.

Is Depression a Mental Illness?

While it’s perfectly normal to feel depressed from time to time, clinically depressed individuals remain depressed for a prolonged period. Clinical depression isn’t just a low mood; it’s a pervasive set of depression symptoms that mean ordinary daily tasks can cause immense emotional pain and suffering.

It’s possible to treat depression and bring it into remission, just like any substance use disorder. However, if you have both depression and addiction, you’ll likely need more intensive and sustained therapy to get to a healthy physical and mental state.

Group consoling a man during addiction and depression group therapy

Symptoms of Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are common symptoms associated with clinical depression:

  • Depressed mood — feeling empty, lost and anxious
  • Negative emotions
  • Persistent negative thoughts
  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Restlessness, irritability and frustration
  • Guilt, helplessness and worthlessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Moving slower than usual
  • Struggling to make decisions or concentrate
  • Lack of control or too much control over food intake
  • Physical ailments that don’t ease with treatment

Symptoms of Substance Addiction

As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the symptoms of a drug or alcohol use disorder include:

  • Extreme cravings that are only eased by substance abuse
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using
  • Continuing to abuse substances despite physical or mental health problems
  • Using despite problems at work, school or home
  • Not being able to cut down or stop despite intending to
  • Problems with personal relationships

Types of Depressive Disorders

Clinical depression is an umbrella term for any diagnosed depressive disorder. Everyone in the world is at risk of developing depression, and it’s a leading cause of disability in the U.S. and around the world. Types include:

  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Major depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Psychotic depression

How Depression and Substance Abuse Interact

Both mental illness and substance abuse disorders share common triggers, and it’s often a struggle to determine which came first in people suffering from both mental illness and depression. What’s well known is that substance use disorders and depressive symptoms feed into each other, making each other worse, unless you get a dual diagnosis and treatment for depression and addiction.

A good example of the interaction between major depression and substance use is the way shame and guilt act as triggers. People who have symptoms of depression, such as not wanting to get out of bed or see friends, feel guilty and ashamed that they’re not living up to society’s expectations. These feelings make the urge to withdraw stronger and push sufferers deeper into despair.

The same is true with substance use disorders. People who compulsively use drugs and alcohol usually know that it’s harmful and they’d be better off not doing it. The fact that they can’t control their urges makes them feel guilty and ashamed. For someone with a substance use problem, the most effective way to deal with these difficult feelings seems to be covering them up with drug abuse.

depressed man sitting in a corner - how to help someone with drug addiction and depression

Self-Medicating: Substance Abuse and Depression

When a dual diagnosis is at play, individuals tend to use substance abuse to mask mental health symptoms. While this can be an effective short-term strategy, the long-term effects of psychoactive substances on the body can be counterproductive. Many substances deplete the chemicals in the brain related to mood, motivation and pleasure, ultimately making the symptoms of depression worse.

Depression and Substance Abuse: Chicken or Egg?

Lots of people wonder whether mental health conditions lead to drug abuse or vice versa. While the answer is unclear, most experts now agree on the best course of action for treating co-occurring disorders. When going through dual diagnosis treatment, the treatment provider usually addresses the substance abuse problem first to bring the client back to baseline. Once the body is free from drugs or alcohol, mental health professionals can address the depression symptoms.

Breaking the Depression and Addiction Cycle

Treating depression and substance abuse takes specialty care from a qualified team. Working with a treatment provider who understands the interaction between co-occurring addiction and depression means you’ll get access to therapeutic treatment practices that are specifically designed for your issue.

Relapse prevention in individuals with dual diagnosis is complicated, but a full recovery is still possible. It’ll take time and effort to gain an understanding of what drives you to abuse substances and learn about how depression impacts your life. However, through psychoeducation and hard work developing new, healthy coping strategies, you can get better.

Some of the treatment options for co-occurring disorders include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Support groups
  • Family therapy
  • Medication assisted treatment
  • Mental health services in the community
  • Experiential therapy
  • Lifestyle changes

Addiction Treatment for Drug Abuse and Depressive Symptoms

Substance use disorders and co-occurring depression are challenging mental health disorders, with depression symptoms making drug and alcohol addiction even harder to cope with. At Changing Tides, our treatment team offers substance abuse treatment while treating the symptoms of depression to give you the best chance of staying sober long term. Call us at 252-715-3905 for more information.