Home What is Addiction – Causes, Symptoms & Evidence-Based Treatment Depression & Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
Drug and alcohol abuse can make depression and mental illness worse, and depression can increase the risk factor for addiction. The reverse is also true, in that addiction can raise the odds for depression.
When addiction and depression are present in the same person at the same time, these disorders are said to be comorbid, or co-occurring. Depression and addiction commonly co-occur, and each condition can complicate the other.
Depression and addiction are complexly intertwined, requiring comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment programs for optimal support. Treatment aims to manage both conditions at the same time, often using both medications and therapies together.
Nearly a quarter of American adults in 2020 had a form of mental illness, with mood and anxiety disorders being some of the most common.
Depression is a mood disorder that can cause symptoms that are significant enough to impact daily life functioning. Depression can be the result of faulty mood regulation in the brain, an imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters that impact emotions and pleasure, medical issues, stressful life events, medications, and genetic risk factors, Harvard Health explains. It is a complex mental illness that can vary in severity from mild to severe.
Addiction is also considered a mental health issue that can have many overlapping vulnerabilities with depression. Drugs and alcohol make changes to the brain’s pathways, reward and pleasure center, and the chemical makeup of the neurotransmitters responsible for emotional regulation and feelings of pleasure.
Both depression and addiction can double the risk for also struggling with the other disorder when compared to someone who does not have depression or addiction. Studies show that around 40 percent of people with a lifetime history of depression also met the criteria for addiction, while close to 40 percent of people seeking treatment for a substance use disorder in the past year also had a co-occurring and independent mood disorder.
For a diagnosis of depression, a person will have some of the following signs and symptoms for the majority of most days for at least two weeks, per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):
Not all of these symptoms will be present in everyone with depression. Generally, the more symptoms a person has, the more severe the depression.
When someone with depression also struggles with addiction, symptoms are often worse and more heightened. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists the following signs and symptoms of addiction:
As with depression, the more of these signs and symptoms that are present, the more severe the addiction. Comorbid depression with addiction can elevate the severity as well.
There are several different forms of depression with the two most common being major depressive disorder (MDD) and persistent depressive disorder.
The following are different types of depression:
Depression and addiction have many of the same risk factors and vulnerabilities, making them more probable to occur in the same person at the same time.
Both addiction and depression likely have genetic components, and overlapping brain regions can be involved in both disorders, NIDA explains. The same environmental influences that can impact depression can also make someone more likely to use drugs or alcohol. Things like trauma, stress, and negative childhood experiences can all be risk factors for both.
Either disorder can precede the other. For example, when a person uses drugs or alcohol regularly for a prolonged period of time, changes are made in the brain that can make it harder to feel pleasure without the substance. Depression is often a side effect of drug and alcohol withdrawal. Addiction can therefore make someone more likely to also develop depression.
Drug and alcohol abuse can also be a form of self-medication for depression, which can seem to be effective in the short term, but it worsens the issue over time. Substance abuse can lead to worsening symptoms, more suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and the potential for drug dependence and addiction.
Co-occurring depression and addiction must be treated simultaneously through a specialized treatment program that works to manage both disorders. Dual diagnosis treatment does exactly that.
With a dual diagnosis treatment program, both disorders are assessed and addressed to ensure that all treatment methods complement each other. Health providers work together to develop a treatment plan to support long-term recovery for both conditions.
In the case of co-occurring disorders, treatment programs often begin with a medical detox program that can provide a safe and secure environment as substances process out of the body. Medications are often used to mitigate possible withdrawal symptoms.
After detox, the next step is often a residential treatment program that can offer continuous support and treatment around the clock for both addiction and depression, including therapies, medications, and support systems.
There are several forms of antidepressants available to help treat depression. Some of these medications have abuse potential and cause drug dependence and withdrawal symptoms when stopped suddenly, so it is important to talk to medical and mental health professionals about what options are best when addiction is also a concern.
These are examples of antidepressant medications approved by the FDA to treat depression:
Everyone reacts differently to medications. It is important to report any side effects, especially worsening depression or suicidal thoughts, to a health care provider right away. These medications should not be stopped or skipped without medical intervention.
Therapies for addiction and depression often include the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that will involve both group and individual sessions. CBT can increase mindfulness by helping a person to understand how thoughts and feelings are contributing to actions. These feelings and thoughts can be analyzed for increased self-awareness.
CBT can work to point out potential triggers and build healthy coping mechanisms to positively change behaviors and actions in the future. Once a person knows what stressors they have and how to best manage them, both depressive symptoms and the need for drugs and alcohol can be reduced. CBT can help with self-regulation and control as well.
When looking for a dual diagnosis treatment program for addiction and depression, do your homework. Call around and talk to treatment centers directly, take tours, and check reviews.
Ask the following questions when calling a treatment center:
A treatment center for managing addiction and depression should have the following:
When a loved one is struggling with depression and addiction, it is important to be supportive and loving while guiding them toward getting professional help through a comprehensive treatment program.
Be assertive in your conversations, and be careful to avoid enabling behaviors. Set clear boundaries and expectations, and don’t make excuses for their behavior.
While in a treatment program, families play an important role in supporting loved ones. Educate yourself on both addiction and depression as well as the treatment itself, so you can have a better understanding of what to expect and how to best support them in recovery. Attend family or group therapy sessions and family events.
It is important to also take care of yourself during this time, which can include attending peer support groups for families and loved ones of people struggling with mental health and/or addiction.
Highlights for the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
What Causes Depression? (June 2019). Harvard Health.
Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses. (September 2010). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Assessment and Treatment of Mood Disorders in the Context of Substance Abuse. (June 2015). Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.
Depression. (February 2018). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. (July 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Types of Depression. (2021). Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
Why Is There Comorbidity Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illnesses? (April 2020). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Depression Medications. (November 2019). U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Article Courtesy: https://bocarecoverycenter.com/addiction/depression/