Battling addiction is difficult and it’s not uncommon to experience depression as a result. For some, depression due to addiction may feel more comfortable to downplay their struggles with substance use disorders and mental health. It is important to be honest with yourself and your loved ones about your health so that you can get the help and support you need. When seeking treatment for depression, it is critical to understand that depression is more than just feeling sad. While sadness is a healthy emotion, depression, and addiction are prolonged and creates a strain on your daily life and activities.
However, major depression (or clinical depression) is a diagnosable condition characterized by a low or depressed mood for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks. Depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the United States. Multiple epidemiological studies have found that people with addiction are at an increased risk of falling into a vicious cycle of depression.
Both addiction and mental health disorders affect the same molecules, chemicals, and pathways in the brain. People with depression often suffer from anxiety disorders post-traumatic stress disorder. According to research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2007, people with mood or anxiety disorders are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an addictive disorder. When only depression is treated, the person will likely continue using the substance of abuse, leading to relapse in addiction with depression.
Common Symptoms of Depression
There are nine symptoms of depression, out of which if you have five or more, then it is probable that you have a depressive disorder. On the other hand, if you have fewer than five symptoms then you may be showing signs of early depression. Only a medical professional can diagnose you with depression and it’s important to seek help if you think you are depressed.
The symptoms of depression can cause noticeable problems with work, school, family life, and personal relationships. Only a medical professional can diagnose you with depression and it’s important to seek help if you think you are depressed.
The nine symptoms are:
- Excessive sadness
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Insomnia or a lot of sleep
- Psychomotor agitation (constant moving of body)
- Loss of interest in things
- Fatigue/ Lack of energy
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate
Types of Depression
There are three levels of severity that a person experiencing depressive disorder may experience.
Mild depression is more than just feeling blue for a short period of time. The symptoms of mild depression can go on for days and are noticeable enough that they interfere with your everyday activities.
Mild depression may cause irritability or anger along with feelings of hopelessness, guilt, despair, self-loathing, and a lack of motivation or interest in routine and enjoyable activities. This is the most common form of depression and its symptoms may also be physical such as aches and pains with seemingly no direct cause, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue, insomnia, appetite changes, weight changes, or reckless behavior.
If the symptoms as stated above persist for most of the day or on an average of four days a week for two years, you would likely be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder.
Even though mild depression is usually noticeable, it is the most difficult to diagnose because it is easy to dismiss the symptoms as something minor or as general feelings of sadness. These symptoms should be taken seriously and evaluated by a professional to prevent them from worsening before seeking treatment.
Moderate depression shares many of the symptoms experienced in mild depression. However, moderate depression may cause problems with self-esteem, reduced productivity, feelings of worthlessness, increased sensitivities, and excessive worrying. The most telling difference is that the moderate addiction symptoms are severe enough to cause difficulties and problems at home as well as at work. You may also find significant difficulties in your social life.
Due to the increase in severity of symptoms, moderate depression is easier to diagnose than mild depression. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors should be discussed at length with a mental health professional to ensure a proper diagnosis and effective treatment.
Severe or major depression is classified as having the symptoms of both mild to moderate depression, but the depressive symptoms are so severe that they are easily recognized by the people around you, even if you do not acknowledge them yourself. Symptoms may also be life-threatening and include suicide attempts and a general lack of care for one’s health. Episodes of major depression last an average of six months or longer. Severe depression can be treated and maintained, but it can also be recurrent for some people. It is important to be regularly monitored by a mental health professional during and after treatment for severe depression.
What Causes Depression?
Research suggests that a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors all play a role in depression. Depression can also occur along with other serious illnesses such as cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. It is also common for depression due to addiction to present with drug addiction or alcohol addiction.
It is important to note that depression does not look the same for everyone and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment method. There are many factors that can contribute to a person’s depression and they should all be evaluated when seeking treatment.
When substance abuse is combined with feelings of depression, these conditions tend to amplify each other, causing negative effects to multiply and leading to increasingly severe form of other illnesses.
Helping Someone with Depression
Helping a person through depression requires patience and understanding. It is crucial that you educate yourself, and it is vital that you do not underestimate the seriousness of the diagnosis. Depression drains a person’s energy, optimism, and motivation. Your depressed loved one cannot just “be normal” or “snap out of it” so it is important to refrain from using words and phrases that can be hurtful.
When someone is suffering from feelings of depression, even thinking about doing things like brushing their teeth can seem exhausting or impossible. If you are helping someone with depression, it is important to remember there is no quick fix and things may progress very slowly.
No one is to blame for depression, it is a common and serious mental illness. The severity will depend on the individual, but if you are caring for someone with depression it is critical that you pay attention to any warning signs that may suggest the person intends to self-harm or harm others. Things you want to pay attention to:
- Talking about suicide, dying, or harming oneself
- A preoccupation with death
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or self-hate
- Acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways
- Getting affairs in order and saying goodbye
- Seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects
- A sudden sense of calm after depression
Finding Treatment for Depression and Addiction
Depending on the substances of abuse, depression models and the individual, treatment approaches can include a detoxification process and additional medication to help with withdrawal symptoms. Several evidence-based therapies are also used for addiction treatment.
Comprehensive treatment is recommended for depression due to severe addiction and substance abuse and it is usually the best road to recovery. Antidepressants can also help reduce depressive symptoms, and some medications are available to treat alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder for those who are experiencing depression as a result of addiction. While medications for depression and anxiety are effective, they don’t address the root cause of your pain.
Many people find that intensive outpatient or inpatient treatment is necessary to curb addiction and learn healthy coping strategies for depression. Individuals that have a dual diagnosis can cope with their addiction and illness with counseling, medical support, and most importantly, support from the people around them. Effective treatment programs typically use peer support, individual counseling, behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, individualized treatment plans, family involvement, and ongoing follow-up support to prevent relapse.
If you have been diagnosed with depression, it is important for you to discuss it with your doctor along with any risk for substance use. You may want to closely monitor your intake of alcohol and seek various coping strategies for the stress and low mood depression causes. It is very important for the person with depression to help themselves first and foremost.
Although mental illness and substance abuse disorder treatments may not always result in continuous remission, they can drastically improve quality of life.