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Depression and Addiction

depression and addiction treatment

Depression, often diagnosed as clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a common mental health condition affecting millions of Americans today. It is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness, that last for weeks on end. Sometimes, to try and cope with these symptoms, people will turn to alcohol and drugs. This leads to a troubling cycle between depression and addiction.

Today, nearly one-third of those with major depression also battle a substance addiction.1

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression are debilitating and tend to interfere with a person’s ability to function in everyday life – such as going to school, getting work done, and socializing with others. For this reason, depression goes much beyond a bad day. Depression can last for weeks, months, and even years. For those struggling, it can feel like there is no end in sight. Those who are depressed tend to experience:

  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, and feeling of emptiness
  • Excessive tiredness, even after a long sleep
  • Feeling of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low energy
  • Aches, pains, headaches, and stomach aches that don’t improve with medicine
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

The Link Between Depression and Addiction

Due to the negative symptoms (and the regularity of them), many people will turn to substances to cope with their condition. The euphoric effects from alcohol and drugs temporarily subside the pains they feel. This is called self-medication. The problem is— self-medicating depression can actually make the disorder worse. While it may provide a short-term escape, substance use can exacerbate feelings of sadness and trigger suicidal thoughts over time.

Many drugs, such as opioids and alcohol, are nervous system depressants. The use of these types of drugs, as a result, tend to trigger depressive symptoms like lethargy, sadness, and hopelessness. When people suffering from depression use drugs or alcohol, their lifetime risk of suicide increases from 10 to 25 percent.

Self-medicating depression can also lead to addiction, formally known as a substance use disorder.

Research shows that people diagnosed with mood disorders (like depression) are about twice as likely to suffer from a drug use disorder than the general population.2

Self-medication is not the only cause of addiction among those who are depressed. The experiences that led up to the depression may also contribute to substance abuse. For example, relationship problems, the loss of a loved one, physical assault, unemployment, financial stress, and other traumatic events can lead a person into a depressed and substance-using state.

Biological factors may also play a role. As we detail in our Mental Health and Substance Abuse article, depression and addiction are both classified as mental health disorders. They affect the same areas of the brain and cause similar, compulsive behaviors in a person – disrupting their ability to make rational, well-thought decisions and exhibit self-control. It is no wonder, then, that they often co-occur and feed off of one another in the same host. Drug addiction and depression, for example, intensify one another’s symptoms and make each condition more serious. That’s where things get complex.

Treating Co-Occurring Depression and Substance Use Disorders

When a person has both depression and addiction, it is called a dual diagnosis, or “co-occurring disorders.” This means that two or more mental health disorders, including addiction, are affecting one person simultaneously. Dual diagnosis can involve any combination of addictive and mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or ADHD. However, depression and substance addiction are among the most common co-occurring disorders today.

Due to its complexity, dual diagnosis requires very specialized and multi-dimensional treatment. Every case of dual diagnosis is unique, and as a result, there is no “one size fits all” approach. However, when treating depression and addiction in a person, one thing is for certain: their treatment must be integrated, provided at the same time and place.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends an integrated treatment plan for co-occurring disorders like depression and addiction.3 This includes:

  • Helping clients get to root of their depression and addiction
  • Teaching the client that full recovery is possible
  • Showing the client healthy coping mechanisms to manage drug cravings
  • Giving the client practical skills and methods for handling negative thoughts
  • Helping the client identify depressive and addictive patterns
  • Motivating the client to make changes in their life

Without integrated dual diagnosis treatment, it is likely that a person will not recover successfully from both disorders. They may even feel overwhelmed in a one-dimensional treatment environment – for example, at a drug rehab center that does not provide therapeutic support for their depression, too. This is because quitting drugs or alcohol, after an addiction has developed, can put a person into a crushing withdrawal state – in which symptoms of depression and anxiety often surface or get worse.

Early Intervention for Depression in Teens and Young Adults

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) reports that roughly two million children under age 17 have diagnosed depression.4 This number adds to the 17 million Americans (18+) who experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.

Youth with depression are at a greater risk for suicide and self-harm. They are also at greater risk of initiating alcohol and drug use in their lifetime. And as we know, youth who use drugs or drink before age 25, are at very high risk of developing a clinical substance addiction. As a result, treatment for the depression and addiction at a young age is key. This level of early intervention can change the course of children’s lives, and prevent them from developing a substance addiction.

Getting the Help You Deserve

If you or a loved one is battling addiction, depression, or a combination of the two, know that it is not uncommon. Millions of Americans struggle with these disorders every day. Not to mention, addiction and depression are both very treatable. Recovery is possible for you, with the right steps taken.

Substance addiction and depression treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Not every treatment center is created equal, and not every treatment center is equipped to handle dual diagnosis cases like this. Enrolling in an integrated treatment program for co-occurring disorders can help you build the healthy, happy life you deserve.

Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn about our dual diagnosis programs for young men and women battling addiction and depression. We are always here for you.


1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18281835

2 https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrcomorbidity.pdf

3 http://www.kap.samhsa.gov/products/manuals/tips/pdf/tip48.pdf

4 https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html