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addiction and depression
April 5, 2021

Addiction and Depression: Finding Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

About half of people with substance use disorders have at least one co-occurring mental health disorder, such as major depression. As many as one-third of people with major depression also have substance abuse disorder. Anyone seeking treatment for chemical dependency should be evaluated by a psychiatrist, since recovery from a dual diagnosis requires that both addiction and depression be acknowledged and treated.

What Addiction and Depression Have in Common

Depression and addiction are bidirectional disorders, meaning that having one places you in a high-risk category for the other. The connection shouldn’t be a surprise, since addictive and depressive disorders are both characterized by:

  • Perfectionistic tendencies. Turning to mind-numbing drugs and/or sinking into despair is a frequent end result of setting impossibly high standards, being unable to live up to them, and learning that the rest of the world doesn’t cooperate. Under the stress, perfectionism feels worthless, isolates itself, and seeks any escape from the emotional pain.
  • Running in families. People who suffer from addiction disorder and/or depression are more likely to have children with the same problems—and not just because the parents set a bad example. Much vulnerability lies in the genes.
  • “Don’t care” symptoms. Either addiction or depression may manifest through losing interest in favorite activities, becoming careless about personal appearance, or avoiding friends.
  • Uncontrollable nature. Telling someone with depression to “just snap out of it” is as futile as telling someone with alcoholism to “just quit drinking.” Even if they try, they may meet danger rather than progress. (While efforts to “just stop” being depressed don’t cause physical withdrawal illness, they can drive a person deeper into “I’ve failed again” despair, even to self-harm or suicide.)
  • “Functional” versions. Many people have “functional” forms of addiction that allow them to continue in jobs and other responsibilities despite ongoing drug use. Clinical depression has its own functional form, called dysthymia, where someone continues everyday routines but carries an inner load of gloom. A “functional” illness can actually be more dangerous than its “nonfunctional” counterpart, allowing someone to delay treatment for years while hiding behind denial (“Anyone can see I’m doing fine”).
  • Increased suicide risk. A serious danger with either depression or addiction, and more so when the disorders co-occur.
  • Need for professional help.

Finding Treatment

Co-occurring substance use disorder and medical depression are best treated together. The patient may require separate specialists to confirm a dual diagnosis: any qualified detox center will provide for psychiatric evaluation. Here are a few other things to look for in treatment for co-occurring disorders:

  • Medical facilities for physical-addiction detox
  • A focus on the individual, rather than one-size-fits-all approaches
  • Opportunities to interact with fellow patients, in and outside formal group sessions
  • Emphasis on involving patients’ whole families

Key Elements of Long-Term Recovery

Treatment of any mental or behavioral illness requires a plan for effective long-term recovery. After physical withdrawal, a patient should spend several weeks recuperating under controlled circumstances, with intensive therapy and preparations for a life of sobriety.

The most important elements of long-term recovery:

  • Acknowledgment of personal responsibility (as emphasized in the classic 12 Steps)
  • Clear understanding of potential relapse triggers to avoid
  • Healthy self-acceptance that acknowledges one’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Directing one’s strengths toward positive goals
  • A strong support network comprising peer groups, therapists, and loved ones
  • Good physical health habits: regular exercise, healthy sleep, nutritious diet

Having all these in your life won’t keep away all depressed feelings or temptations to use drugs—but it will minimize the odds of actual relapse, and build a bright future one day at a time.

We Treat Depression Along with Addiction

Beach House Recovery provides dual diagnosis treatment for addiction combined with depression or other mental health disorders. We guarantee thorough medical and psychiatric assessments for all clients, and we consider all needs at every stage of recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our full continuum of care.

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