The relationship between substance abuse and depression is deep and complex. It’s very common for people who have a chemical addiction to display the signs of depression, such as social isolation, sadness or suicidal thoughts. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that at least 20 percent of Americans who suffer from depression also have a substance use disorder. The Journal of Addictive Disorders reports that as many as 70 percent of individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol may also have some form of mental illness.
Recognizing the red flags of depression and substance abuse could save you or someone you love from the harmful side effects of both conditions, including:
- Poor physical health
- Relationship problems
- Financial and legal troubles
- Self-injury and suicide
Substance Abuse and Mood Disorders
When substance abuse and a mood disorder exist in the same person (a condition known as “co-occurring disorders”), it can be very difficult to separate one condition from the other. Some experts in the mental health community believe that depression causes drug and alcohol abuse, while others believe that substance abuse can affect brain chemistry in such a way that it leads to chronic depression. Because many people use drugs and alcohol to “manage” untreated depression, the two conditions can quickly become indistinguishable.
Abusing drugs and alcohol can increase the health risks of depression exponentially. The public service organization Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) notes that up to 90 percent of people who commit suicide are suffering from a substance use disorder or a mental illness like depression. Drugs and alcohol can impair your judgment and make life seem hopeless, even if you don’t have clinical depression. A person who’s frequently intoxicated is more likely to harm herself or to attempt suicide than someone who’s clean and sober.
Warning Signs of Depression and Substance Abuse
How can you detect the signs of depression and substance abuse before it’s too late? Being attentive to the people you care about and perceptive about changes in their behavior is the key to detecting these co-occurring conditions. Look for the following warning signs:
- Frequent expressions of hopelessness, despair, guilt or low self-worth
- Tearfulness, mood swings or emotional overreaction to minor events
- Isolation from friends, family members or social groups
- Poorly explained absences at work, club meetings or public events
- Unintentional weight loss or weight gain
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
- An uncharacteristically disheveled appearance or poor hygiene
- References to self-injury or suicidal thoughts
- The frequent use of alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings of sadness
Depression isn’t always characterized by sadness or despair, although these emotions are very common in depressed people. Some individuals express depression through irritability, social withdrawal or anger. Any negative changes in a loved one’s mood, behavior or affect may be indications of an underlying mental health issue.
Finding Help for Co-Occurring Disorders
Once you’ve spotted the signs of depression and substance abuse, the next step is to help your friend or family member get into treatment. Depression can cause fatigue and apathy, making it difficult for your loved one to find the motivation to recover from substance abuse. You may need to take an active role in encouraging the person you care about to reach out to others.
Finding a treatment center that specializes in co-occurring disorders is one of the first steps to a successful recovery. Treatment for depression and substance abuse should include these important components:
- Psychological therapy for both the mental health disorder and substance abuse
- Pharmacological therapy for substance abuse and a mood disorder
- Access to a professional staff that’s cross-trained in addiction treatment and mental healthcare
- Family education and counseling on the relationship between depression and addiction
Recovering from addiction requires a specialized approach to treatment when you’re also struggling with depression. Clinical studies indicate that the chances of maintaining long-term abstinence are much greater if you’re treated for mental illness and substance abuse at the same time. In order for successful healing to take place, addiction specialists must also have education and experience in treating clinical depression, and vice versa.
At Axis, we’re uniquely equipped to help you handle the challenges of a co-occurring disorder. We offer treatment programs that address both your substance abuse and your depression, so you can achieve a full recovery on all levels. Call our intake team at any hour of the day or night for a confidential discussion of your needs.