A substance addiction and mental health disorder being present at the same time is known as a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders are prevalent in addiction treatment. Because the mental health disorders frequently co-exist with addiction, dual-diagnosis treatment is becoming increasingly vital to successful recovery.

While there are a number of mental health disorders that may accompany an addiction, depression is one of the most common. Although depression and addiction will both have their own set of unique symptoms that can negatively impact the way a person interacts with the world around them, together, they can exacerbate one another and lead to troubling outcomes. Substance abuse and depression are closely linked making it difficult for many people to determine which one presents symptoms first. In some cases, addiction can develop as a result of a person using substances to self-medicate for symptoms of depression. In other cases, substance abuse can increase the risk of underlying mental health disorders surfacing. The side effects of substance abuse can, in some cases, cause symptoms that closely resemble those of mental health disorders.

Symptoms of a Co-Occurring Disorder

Depression and substance abuse are so intertwined that it can be difficult to identify that two conditions are actually present. It is not uncommon for those in addiction treatment to uncover the presence of an underlying mental health condition through therapy. Having a better understanding of how depression looks and its relationship to substance abuse can help you determine your needs in treatment. Symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but some of the most common signs include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

Substance abuse can cause many of these same symptoms to be present which can make it difficult to determine if a co-occurring disorder is present. There are some indicators, however, that substance use is related to depression. Some of these include:

  • Using substances to control pain or mood, to cope with difficult memories or feelings, or as a means of facing challenging situations
  • A noticeable relationship between how you feel and when you do or do not use substances
  • Having a family history of substance abuse or depression
  • Having unresolved trauma or a history of abuse
  • Experiencing difficult emotions or feelings when not under the influence
  • Receiving unsuccessful treatment for mental health disorders in the past

One aspect of addiction that makes it difficult to treat is the influence of denial. Many people struggle with feeling shame, guilt, fear, or anxiety about addiction. Admitting there is a problem can be scary and many people hope that be simply ignoring it, it will eventually go away. Unfortunately, co-occurring disorders often exacerbate symptoms of one another and worsen with time. Overcoming denial is critical in ensuring a person receives the treatment they need.

Depression and Addiction Treatment

The best method of treating depression and addiction is to address them simultaneously. Treating one without the other can increase the risk of relapse and renders treatment largely ineffective. Regardless of which condition existed first, concurrent treatment is vital to success. Depending on individual circumstances, treatment for depression and addiction may utilize medication, therapy, counseling, support groups, lifestyle changes, and other forms of support to strengthen recovery.

Struggling with depression and addiction simultaneously can be difficult to overcome, but there are some things to keep in mind when moving forward with dual-diagnosis treatment.

  1. It takes time: Depression and addiction evolve over time and will not be magically cured with a pill or a couple of therapy sessions. Both often require long-term care in order to effectively manage the symptoms. For many, this means making lifestyle changes to support sobriety and reduce the impact of depression symptoms. Success in this case is measured by a person’s long-term achievements rather than achieving full remission. The reality is, most people do not ever fully free themselves of all symptoms associated with co-occurring disorders. Instead, any combination of healthy coping mechanisms, therapy, medication, and other support systems make managing symptoms easier.
  2. Co-occurring disorders can be dangerous: Addiction and depression on their own can be challenging, but together, they can create dangerous situations. These two conditions worsen one another, increasing the intensity of side effects and creating additional complications. Treating one without the other can put a person at risk for relapse or negatively impact the effectiveness of treatment for depression. This means that treatment for these co-occurring disorders must be tailored to the individual’s needs and balanced in its attention to both conditions.
  3. Having depression or an addiction does not make you weak: It is easy to let negative thoughts, preconceived notions, and incorrect societal views dictate how you view addiction and depression. The reality is, both addiction and depression are disorders that require professional help and treatment to overcome. It is not something you can turn on and off easily, and in many cases, a combination of factors outside of your control can play a substantial role in their development. It can be difficult, but actively working to change your mindset and perception about the situation can make it easier to accept help and start recovering.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.