Depression and addiction often go hand-in-hand. A depressed person may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Substance use may numb the pain for a while, but some will develop a substance use disorder. Both conditions play off of one another, making everything worse. Without help, a person can feel trapped in a painful cycle. We’ll look closely at how depression and addiction are linked. Then we’ll review healthy ways to cope with depression. Finally, we’ll examine how a person can get more help.
The “why” behind addiction and depression
It’s not uncommon for people to have more than one health condition. It often happens with addiction and mental health disorders and is called a dual diagnosis. Addiction can occur with any type of diagnosed mental health issue. But it occurs most often with mood disorders. These include all forms of depression and bipolar disorders. It’s often hard to know whether the addiction or mental health issue develops first. One may show symptoms while the other remains hidden. But that doesn’t mean one disorder directly causes the other. The exact links between mood disorders and addictions are not clear. Researchers have a few ideas about what may tie these conditions together.
Similar physical pathways
Both types of disorders may involve similar areas of the body. They affect the nervous system by affecting similar neural pathways. These conditions also impact the part of the brain that manages motivation and rewards. This area is called the nucleus accumbens. It responds to depression and addiction in much the same way.
Genetic vulnerability may also play a role in the risk of developing a dual diagnosis. What makes a mood disorder more likely may also increase a person’s chances of developing an addiction. People with a family history of mood disorders or addictions are at more risk of developing both. A person cannot inherit either disorder from their parents. But the genetic package they’re born with may have similar vulnerabilities.
Both conditions aggravate each other
Both addiction and depression can play off each other, making symptoms worse for both. Substance misuse can magnify depression symptoms, but the reverse can also be true. Depression symptoms are emotionally painful. A person may turn to substances to cope with this pain. Treatment-resistant depression raises the risk of addiction even more. If left unchecked, these patterns can become a vicious cycle.
What are some healthy ways to cope with depression symptoms?
Coping with depression takes daily effort. Here are some simple habits for coping with the ups and downs of depression.
Depression can leave you feeling sluggish and drained. Exercise can make you feel a little tired when you first start out. But as your body adjusts, you’ll feel more energized each day. Start small, like going for a short daily walk and build from there. Exercise can also improve your sleep, another common concern for people with depression.
Eat nutritious food
Good nutrition impacts how well you can manage your energy each day. When you’re coping with depression, empty calories and low-nutrition food can sap what little energy you may have left. Avoid excess sugar or heavily fried foods. Focus instead on lean protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains.
Practice good sleep habits
Sleep is vital for good mental health. But sleep disruption is one of the main symptoms affecting people with depression. Here are a few ways to improve your chances of getting better sleep:
- Get some exercise every day. Aim for 30 minutes three times a week of moderate exercise to get a noticeable benefit.
- Reduce extra sounds near the bedroom or use a fan for white noise.
- Shut off the TV, your phone or other devices an hour or more before bed.
- Stick to a routine before bed. Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
Stay connected socially
Being social can be difficult when you’re depressed. Still, it’s essential to stay connected with others. Instead of going to a large gathering, have a meal with one friend or family member. Make a weekly phone call to someone you care about. Do an activity you enjoy with someone so that there’s less pressure to talk all the time.
Stay engaged in some activities you normally enjoy
When you’re depressed, you may lose interest in activities you normally enjoy. It may seem like you’re just going through the motions. It’s tempting to stop doing everything and isolate when this happens. Still, try to get out anyway. You’ll have something to look forward to, and you may still find pleasure in these activities.
Share and connect with someone you trust
Depression can be a lonely condition. But many people hesitate to open up to loved ones. They worry that others won’t want to listen, will shame them or will ignore them. Talking about your depression can help you feel less isolated and misunderstood. You may feel better after sharing with a loved one, or you may benefit from counseling.
Talk to your healthcare provider
Your healthcare provider may have other suggestions, including medication. You may not need medication to function or feel better, but it can be an effective treatment option.
What acute dual diagnosis may look like
Some people struggling with a dual diagnosis need immediate help. But would you recognize a dual diagnosis situation if you saw it? Symptoms can vary for different substances and mental health conditions. Here are some general signs that a loved one may be dealing with a dual diagnosis.
- They aren’t able to take care of major obligations like work, school or family care.
- They may have constant money problems.
- You know they’ve had a history of either substance misuse or a mental health condition. And now the symptoms you see look familiar.
- Their sleep patterns seem erratic. They look tired or seem mentally disjointed like they haven’t slept well in a while.
- Their behavior may be unpredictable.
- They may engage in risky behavior. This may include sexual activity, excessive spending, gambling, reckless driving or illegal activity.
- They may withdraw from loved ones or change friend groups suddenly.
- Their relationships may have more conflict or seem strained.
- They may appear intoxicated or show erratic behavior, slurred speech, hyperactivity or poor balance.
- They may have told you they’ve quit using or drinking several different times over the years.
- Their behavior seems sneaky or like they’re hiding something.
- You’ve caught them in some lies.
- You may observe increased use of substances. Or you may find evidence of it, like empty bottles or drug paraphernalia.
- They may minimize or normalize their excessive substance use. For example, you may see them pour a drink the moment they get home from work. Then they may also have several drinks during dinner, followed by a nightcap. They may get defensive if you question their use.
- They look and sound miserable like they’re struggling to get through each day. But you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong.
- Some with dual diagnoses may look like they are functioning well. They may hold a good job and stay visible in the community, but they may also go to great lengths to hide their problems. You may notice an overreaction when they can’t use. They may seem defensive or nervous when things change suddenly.
Treatment options for dual diagnosis conditions
Dual diagnosis issues are complex. Getting correct diagnoses can be challenging. It can take time for a mental health provider to tell symptoms apart. But this process is vital for helpful treatment. Here are some of the elements many treatment programs include.
Withdrawal symptoms are often uncomfortable, and some are dangerous. Medical detox may be necessary for some depending on the substance they’ve been using. Residential rehab may include detox services on site.
A therapist helps people build relationships. They also talk about recovery and support others. Together, they foster a safe space for all.
Therapists get to know each person in private sessions. This allows each person to talk about the issues that matter most.
Treatment isn’t only about therapy; other activities can help a person recover. Some programs offer yoga, creative art or nature hikes.
Learning about addiction and mental health
It can take time to learn about and understand dual diagnosis disorders. Therapists teach people about their disorders in treatment; this is called psychoeducation.
Families are important support networks. Family sessions teach everyone how to help their loved one through recovery.
Sometimes a person needs medication for their addiction or mental health issue. A psychiatrist is part of a person’s treatment team. They can see each person as needed during rehab.
Health assessment and education
Mental health and addiction can impact a person’s physical health and make other health issues worse. Rehab may include medical care, so therapists may also consult with a person’s private physician. Some people may need nutritional support as well.
Residential and outpatient treatment
Residential rehab often comes to mind when people think of addiction treatment, which may be necessary for some.. But outpatient services work for many people. Residential rehab may fit when both conditions become severe. A person may need 24-hour care in the early stage of treatment. They may be well enough to return home after treatment. Or they may step down to a sober living house before going home. An outpatient rehab is an effective option and helpful for a person with less severe conditions. Sessions are scheduled in the evenings and some weekends, making it easier to do treatment with a full-time job or family obligations.
Get help for dual diagnosis disorders – Reach out today
You don’t have to feel trapped by addiction and depression anymore. P.A.T.H. offers services for dual diagnosis disorders in an outpatient setting. Treatment is convenient and affordable. You can get the treatment you need close to home with less disruption than inpatient rehab. We’re here to answer your questions. For more information about these issues or how P.A.T.H. services may help, contact us 713-528-3709.