Depression is a dark cloud that affects your life by consuming hope and joy. In many cases, no matter what is happening around you, it’s like the color is taken out of every experience. But, if you struggle with depression, you are not alone.
Millions of Americans are plagued by the mental health disorder, with 16.2 million adults struggling with major depressive disorder, which is just one of the more common forms of depression. When depression is a constant source of negativity in your life, you may be drawn to any source of relief.
Drugs and alcohol use disorders are often seen alongside depression and we still aren’t sure exactly why.
Is it because they share similar risk factors? Does one cause the other? Either way, it’s clear that the presence of a co-occurring mental health issue like depression complicates treatment and can be difficult to diagnose, However, in order for treatment to be effective, it’s important to address both addiction and depression simultaneously. Otherwise, the possibility of relapsing into one or both of the disorders is likely.
Learn more about addiction, depression, and how the complex treatment of these two co-occurring disorders works.
Dual diagnosis is a clinical term for a substance use disorder that is occurring at the same time as another mental health problem. It could involve anything from anxiety to schizophrenia. However, depression is among the most common mental health issues found in people who also have substance use disorders, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
In the past, doctors and psychiatrists would treat depression and other mental health issues separately, or they would turn away people seeking help for depression when it was discovered that they had a substance abuse problem. Mental disorders are difficult to treat when they are fueled but an addiction. Both disorders can cause chemical imbalances in the brain and leave lasting consequences. Likewise, depression is often an underlying issue that causes addiction. As a result, trying to treat the addiction without addressing depression is just a temporary remedy at best.
Today, we’ve come to understand that effective addiction treatment means treating multiple issues, not just drug abuse. Dual diagnosis treatment seeks to identify the underlying mental health issues that may be present with a SUD and treat both problems at the same time. Doing this will ideally give patients the coping skills and support to deal with both issues, leading to lasting recovery.
There are a variety of potential reasons your substance use disorder might occur alongside a depressive disorder. Understanding the relationship between these issues might allow dual diagnosis specialists to treat you more effectively. Here are some of the possible causes of dual diagnosis:
Your brain communicates with the rest of your body through your nervous system by releasing chemicals that attach to receptors on your nerve cells. These naturally occurring chemicals can excite or inhibit their respective receptors, which each have their own function. For instance, opioid receptors cause pain relief, GABA receptors cause drowsiness, and dopamine receptors cause excitement. In simple terms, it’s like your brain is full of tiny levers with different functions and neurochemicals pull those levels.
Activities, cognitive coping, external and internal stimuli, and a variety of other things can cause fluctuations in these chemicals throughout your day. However, in some cases, mental health issues are caused by an imbalance of this brain chemistry. As an example, if your GABA receptors are overstimulated, it can mean the relaxing effects make you feel so down you become depressed.
There are more than 200 drugs and chemical substances that can cause feelings of depression and a few have shown to frequently cause depressive symptoms. In people that have predispositions to depressive disorders or have experienced depression before, certain drugs have a higher chance of causing a depressive disorder. Central nervous system depressants are particularly common in this phenomenon. They activate GABA receptors and increase the efficiency of GABA chemicals. This can cause anti-anxiety and help sleeplessness, but it may also trigger depression.
Depression is as common as it is oppressive. Yet, stigma causes many people to avoid talking about it or seeking help with mental health. In some cases, the cost or time required to seek mental health treatment is also a deterrent. As a result, people don’t get the help they need and instead turn to self-medication.
Self-medication refers to the act of using substances that aren’t typically meant for mental health treatment as a way of seeking relief for painful, disturbing, or uncomfortable symptoms. One of the most common substances used in self-medication is alcohol, but other drugs can be used. In many cases, drugs or alcohol do provide temporary relief but they eventually make symptoms worse or don’t do anything at all. The return of symptoms can cause people to use again until dependence and addiction develop.
The risk factors for a disease or mental health issue refers to the factors in your personal history, family history, upbringing, and environment that contribute to your likelihood of developing that disease. Addiction has been traced back to three main risk factors: biology, environment, and development. These three factors also play a significant role in the development of mental health issues like depression. In some cases, factors can overlap.
Some causes of both mental disorders and SUDs include physical and sexual abuse, stress, and a lack of parental involvement. When these occur in a person’s life, it could cause them to develop both disorders simultaneously, rather than having one cause the other.
A depressed mood and drowning your sorrows in alcohol seem to be both culturally and statistically related. Movies and TV shows depict bars as havens for the depressed, lonely, and woebegone. However, treating depression with alcohol is a sure way to make things worse.
Some drugs will lift your mood and even though alcohol is a depressant, it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re three shots in at a party. The substance causes a release of inhibitions and makes you forget about your worries. Drinking is also a social activity. Personal experience and media and advertorial portrayals can cause you to think of drinking as a mood elevating activity. But while you might feel euphoric after a few drinks, the chemical activity in your brain is making the neurochemical effects of depression worse.
Drinking isn’t only associated with depressive disorders, it’s also tied to suicide. As your depression is deepened with a little bit of chemical help from alcohol, it also causes you to lose inhibitions that would normally stop you from self-harm and suppresses your judgment.
Addiction doesn’t just worsen depression while you are in actively using, it can also lead to long-lasting mental health consequences that can contribute to depressive disorders. Stimulants, in particular, are associated with depression during withdrawal symptoms. Meth is among the worst offenders. Excessive use of the drug, especially during meth binges, can damage dopamine receptors, which is part of the brain’s ability to feel pleasure. With fewer working receptors, you might not be able to feel pleasure from anything besides powerful sources like meth use. This often results in depression, and sometimes, suicide.
Since dual diagnosis affects so many people seeking addiction treatment, quality treatment centers will take the possibility of a mental health issue in clients into account immediately. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), a client’s emotional, behavioral, or cognitive condition is one of the six dimensions of assessment that treatment centers should consider when placing clients into a level of care.
The potential existence of a mental health problem should be addressed as soon as you begin treatment. Severe issues that require immediate attention may mean placing a client in a higher level of care. As you move through treatment, your treatment plan should address any depressive disorder you might have. Through approved medications or therapeutic options, depressive disorders will be addressed as you learn coping strategies to deal with addiction.
If you believe that you may have a depressive disorder and you have been using alcohol or drugs at the same time, there is help available. Recovering from dual diagnosis is a difficult road, but with personalized treatment and evidence-based therapy options, you may be able to achieve lifelong recovery. To learn more about dual diagnosis treatment options, call the addiction specialists at Delphi Behavioral Health Group at 844-899-5777 at any time. The first step in recovery may just be a call away.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Major Depression. Retrieved from from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction