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Depression and  Addiction – Are They Linked?

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Depression and addiction are often associated with each other. In fact, even though addiction can be diagnosed on its own, it is frequently the end result of some other pre-existing causal disorder, such as anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and most often, depression. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, almost 64% of individuals with an addiction to alcohol meet the qualifications for a clinical diagnosis of depression. Why is this the case?

Understanding the Connection Between Depression and Addiction

Both conditions—depression and addiction—are influenced by similar genetic and environmental factors that, when coupled, increase the chances of developing both disorders. Some of those factors might include:

  • Heredity: Recent research has suggested that an individual’s genetic makeup can predispose them to both mental health disorders and substance abuse.
  • Development of the Brain: Drug use/alcoholism while the brain is still developing – i.e. the teenage years – increases the chances of a subsequent co-occurring disorder.
  • Neurology: When a person has a deficiency in the neurotransmitters that affect emotional stability, it can cause both substance abuse and mood disorders.
  • Trauma/Stress: When a person survives an extremely traumatic event, that person can be thereafter prone to mental illness/addiction.

Which Causes Which?

Having either disorder can be a causal factor in developing the other. Having either condition increases the likelihood of eventually having the other. Simply put, addiction predicts depression, and depression predicts addiction. For example, alcohol use disorder and clinical depression each are associated with a double risk of either disorder. The symptoms of many mental health disorders so closely resemble those of addiction that sometimes, even a trained psychiatrist can have difficulty judging where one illness begins and the other ends. Let’s take a closer look at the self-perpetuating cycle of depression and addiction:

  • A person suffering an addiction will often experience other unpleasant consequences as a result – problems with money, strained personal relationships, difficulties at work, legal entanglements, health issues, etc. Each of these can have a profound negative impact upon a person’s self-esteem, resulting in depression.
  • Chronic substance abuse can lead to changes within the brain, resulting in mental instability, wild mood swings, impulsiveness, poor decision-making, confusion, and memory loss, all of which can leave a person vulnerable to depression.
  • Conversely, many people who suffer from depression will try to help themselves by self-medicating with illicit or prescription drugs, excessive amounts of alcohol, or other addictive behaviors.

The study also found that substance abuse was more commonly a causal factor in developing depression than the opposite. Another important finding of the study was the fact that when a person with depression uses multiple drugs, it can interfere with recovery and trigger a relapse. Marijuana, for example, can be particularly problematic when used by a person in treatment for dependence on alcohol, because it robs a person of their motivation to change.

Warning Signs of a Dual Diagnosis

Although addiction and depression are different disorders, they share many symptoms, and this can confuse an accurate dual diagnosis. However, there are some signs of co-current illnesses that can help determine if treatment on multiple fronts is warranted –

  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or tearful for an extended period – more than two weeks – even when there has been no drug or alcohol use
  • Using drugs/alcohol to deal with painful memories or unpleasant feelings
  • Becoming increasingly isolated because of alcohol or drugs
  • Relying on drugs just to get through the day
  • Difficulties in professional and personal relationships because of a drug or alcohol abuse
  • Past treatment for depression or another mental disorder
  • A personal history of trauma or abuse that has never been discussed with a professional mental health specialist

None of these signs are, in and of themselves, and the absolute indicator of co-current disorders. However, since the two sides—mental disorders and addiction disorders—are so intertwined, it is, in fact, a good idea to assume a dual diagnosis until it can be actually ruled out by a professional.

Concurrent Disorders

The treatment of concurrent disorders—typically, mental (ex. anxiety or depression) and chemical (ex. drug addiction or alcoholism)—is one of the fundamental principles of substance abuse rehabilitation therapy, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When treating co-occurring disorders, the most effective plan is a “dual-treatment” technique, where both conditions are regarded as the primary disorder.

Stated another way, the treatment plan is devised to offer the sufferer relief and healing from both illnesses. The converse of that is also true. Unless addiction treatment is combined with treatment for the co-occurring disorder, a complete, healthy recovery probably will not happen.

Is There a Link Between Substance Abuse and Depression in Teens?

Yes, there is, and it is a very strong link. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates a study that was done by researchers at the University of Southern California. They found that negative urgency—or acting impulsively during times of negative emotions—is what links depressive symptoms and the start of abusing substances.

Depression symptoms can quickly become overwhelming for teens. But because of their age, they are often reluctant to share these types of concerns with authority figures. They may already be experiencing a breakdown in communication with their parents. That can make talking about their mental health a subject that is completely taboo.

Instead, they will often self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. While this is extremely dangerous because of their still-developing brains, there are other risks as well. For example, and teen may begin by smoking cigarettes. They may gradually switch to alcohol, marijuana or even harder drugs just to continue getting relief for their symptoms.

The Dangers of Youth Drug Addiction and Depression

There is always the concern of ever-increasing tolerance levels in teens when it comes to drug abuse. Many teens may not realize that their bodies will get used to the drugs they use over time. To compensate, they will need to increase their dosage, add new drugs or alcohol into the mix, or switch to more potent drugs. This results in an ongoing cycle that is extremely difficult to stop. That is why professional treatment is highly recommended at the first sign of depression in teens.

Accommodating, Individually-Tailored Treatment

Any person seeking to enter rehab should first investigate to see if the facility offers treatment that is specific for patients who have been dually-diagnosed. Ideally, the staff should be fully-credentialed for co-occurring illnesses. At a minimum, there should be licensed addiction specialists and licensed psychiatrist specializing in the mental disorders most commonly affecting your alcoholics/addicts.

When treating co-occurring disorders such as addiction and depression simultaneously, the facilities that follow the best practices should always consider medication-assisted detox and rehab. A center that specializes in dual diagnosis should also offer therapy sessions and group settings. These must meet the needs of individuals with diagnosable mental illnesses.

Understanding Dual Diagnosis Treatment

A dual-diagnosed treatment plan must be individually tailored to each patient. A cookie-cutter approach will not work, because one person’s addiction is not another’s, one person’s causal trauma is not another’s, and one person’s mental disorder is not another’s. Some requirements of a proper program might include:

  • A thorough pre-evaluation and case history of the patient’s psychiatric health – both past and present – and a detailed history of their past and current drug use
  • Medication therapy that can alleviate the most severe symptoms of the existing mental disorder
  • Individual counseling sessions to address the link between the mental disorder and the addiction
  • Group therapy with other patients who are dually-diagnosed
  • Use of holistic therapies such as the size, yoga, acupuncture, or exercise to restore a person’s mind/body/spirit balance
  • Inclusion of counseling and education for spouses and children
  • Supportive aftercare that continues past the conclusion of rehab

Is your loved one is battling the twin demons of addiction and a mental disorder such as depression? If so, help them by educating yourself about co-occurring disorders.

Help for the Family

Most often, substance abusers of all stripes, especially those with co-occurring disorders are deeply in denial about the state of their lives and the absolute necessity for help. Therefore, family interventions are frequently necessary in order to compel the addict/alcoholic into rehab. Unfortunately, at this point, some facilities will then stop including the family in the treatment program. The family must now figure out how to proceed all on its own, which is a mistake.

The best facilities will first offer classes designed to educate families about the separate diagnoses of addiction and depression. Counseling sessions, both individual and group, should be available. These sessions will show the long-suffering spouses and families how to gain serenity and sanity.

Finally, there should be private sessions that include only the afflicted individual and the family, as the focus moves to the reintegration of the now “recovering” individual back into the folds of his/her loved ones. The dynamic will definitely be different, and adjustments will be necessary. Living with any sort of addiction can be hellish. So can living with a mental condition such as depression.

When a person can be dually diagnosed with both, it becomes all that more imperative that the proper treatment, medications, and support need to be incorporated into any treatment plan. Only when the approach is both comprehensive and individualized is the chance of a lasting recovery good.

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Help is Available: The Imagine Program at Northpoint

Imagine by Northpoint is the name of our outpatient teen mental health and addiction treatment program. We are located in Nampa, Idaho and we work with young people aged 12–17. Our clients and their families are always treated as individuals when they come to us for help.

We aim to provide targeted therapy and treatment that is based on their unique needs. They participate in multiple forms of care, such as group therapy, family therapy, and psychiatric evaluations. This is a very intensive program because it is a day treatment center. It is an environment where teens can heal and thrive.

To find out more about how we can help, call us today at 888.296.8976.