Depression and Substance Abuse

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Updated 08/09/2023

When people who work on roads talk about “depression,” they’re describing a bump or a dip. To them, depression is something that interferes with a smooth ride from one place to another.

The mental illness depression is a lot like that. For people dealing with depression, there’s something interfering with the smooth passage of life. At one point, they’re going along just fine. Then, all of a sudden, they’re lower than they once were. Sometimes, these people find it difficult to get back up on higher ground, unless they get the right kind of help at the right time.

What Is Depression?

Almost every single person that’s alive right now has dealt with a sensation of depression at one point or another. Life isn’t always happy, and sometimes, things happen that can make people feel downright miserable. A fleeting sense of sadness or loss isn’t a sign of illness. It’s just part of being human.

But people who have depression don’t have a fleeting sense of sadness or loss. Instead, they have intense feelings of woe that last for two weeks or longer, and that are so severe that they interfere with activities of daily living. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these are the sorts of clinical signs that merit a diagnosis of clinical depression.

It’s not always clear what triggers an episode like this, but the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance suggests that it usually takes place due to a combination of genetics and an environmental trigger. That means people who develop clinical depression typically have some sort of predisposition to the illness due to their genes, and at some point in life, they go through some kind of stressful event, such as:

  • Job loss
  • Death of a loved one
  • Loss of a romantic relationship
  • Financial stress

The event works like a trigger, tipping the person from the vulnerable category into the category of full-blown illness. That genetic vulnerability was probably already there, just waiting to come to the forefront.

Coping With Depression

Living with depression isn’t at all easy. People might feel as though life is simply destined to get worse, no matter what they might try to do to make things better. They might feel unable or unwilling to do anything to make the situation change. People with depression might seem exhausted by even the smallest of tasks, and they might be unable to explain why they just don’t have the energy to do the things they once did.

Some people with depression have hallmark signs that are easy to see. They might cry, talk about death, or stay in bed for long periods of time. These people are somewhat easy to help, since their signs are right out in the open, demanding immediate attention. But there are some people with depression who are adept at hiding their problems from the people they love.

That’s what happened with a young man in England. His family was profiled for an article in The Guardian, and his mother reports that the boy never complained about symptoms of depression. She reports that he seemed a little withdrawn, but he still went to movies with her and handled job interviews. He coped with his problems alone, until he started to lose control. Only when he started missing classes and losing track of money did his family worry.

People who have depression may not be open and honest about their symptoms because they’ve lost a sense of hope. Talking is something people do when they come to believe that others both want to help them and have the capacity to help them. When depression takes over, it can be hard for people to sustain that sense of help and hope. So they hide their symptoms, because they think talking about them won’t help.

While people with depression might not talk to their friends and family members, they might not talk to doctors, either. In fact, in a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 35 percent of people with severe depression admitted that they’d worked with a mental health professional in the year prior. That’s an incredibly low number, and it suggests that many people with depression are choosing to work through the issues alone, looking for their own solutions wherever they can. Sometimes, the solutions they choose aren’t helpful at all.

The Connection Between Depression and Addiction

Often, people with depression look for solutions in drug use. In fact, Mental Health America suggests that one person in three with depression also has a substance abuse or substance dependence issue. On the surface, this can seem like an excellent solution for people with addictions. Drugs of abuse often boost brain pleasure chemicals like dopamine, providing an artificial sense of joy and bliss. For people with depression, that boost of pleasure could make them feel intensely better, just for a short period of time.

Drugs of abuse often worsen symptoms of depression. When the drugs wear off, all of the old feelings are just waiting to come roaring back. Constant exposure to drugs and the pleasure chemicals they bring can leave brain cells damaged and unable to respond to the world’s natural sources of joy. People with addictions may be unable to feel any kind of happiness without drugs, and they may need a lot of drugs to bring that change about.

Treatment Options

The best way to handle an addiction complicated by depression is to enroll in a program that specializes in co-occurring disorders. It’s here that you’ll get care for both conditions at the same time, and it’s here that the care you’ll get will result in changes you can feel.

For people with addictions, the first step to healing involves detox. The person has an opportunity to really get sober in a controlled environment, so the mind can clear and the person can get ready for the work to come in rehab. For people with depression, detox might involve antidepressant medication, which can help people to get sober without feeling overwhelmed by sadness and loss.

Next, therapy aims to help people both understand and learn to deal with feelings of sadness. A study in the journal Addiction suggests that mindfulness training can help. Here, people learn how to simply spot signs of sadness without reacting to them. They notice the feelings, but they then let the feelings pass by without reacting to them with drugs and alcohol. Standard talk therapy might help, too, but specialized treatments like mindfulness can be quite effective, too.

Family therapy can also be quite helpful for people with addictions and depression. In family therapy, people learn how to communicate effectively and share comprehensively, so the whole group knows a little more about what everyone in the family needs in order to feel loved and valued.

Of course, relapse prevention training is vital for addiction healing. People with addictions need to learn more about why they fall back into drug habits, so they’ll know just what to do when the opportunity to use drugs comes back into play. Relapse prevention training can give people the skills they need to stay sober for life.

At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, people learn these lessons every single day. Our acute-care facility is known for providing comprehensive care for people with co-occurring conditions, including addiction and depression. Treatment programs are made to progress on both fronts, providing you with all of the help you’ll need to stay sober for good. Please call us to start your enrollment process. We’re here around the clock to help.

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When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.