Depression and Addiction: Do the Two Go Hand in Hand?

Everyone has a bad day now and then, but having depression is much worse.

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Problems at work, difficulties at home, or challenges in relationships can lead to feeling down and struggling to feel good about yourself, but again, these periods of time are generally short-lived. When you have clinical depression, your condition is much worse than when you just have a bad day now and then. Clinical depression is a serious mental condition that has devastating consequences for those who suffer from it.

As you might suspect, addiction is actually quite typical among those who have clinical depression.

Depression and Rehab

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10% of all people in the United States currently suffer from depression. They also indicate that certain groups of people are at a much higher risk of becoming clinically depressed than others. These groups of people include: 

  • Women
  • Adults who are between the ages of 45 and 64
  • People who are not able to work
  • People who have been unemployed for a period of time
  • People who do not have health insurance
  • African Americans and Hispanics 

As you might suspect, addiction is actually quite typical among those who have clinical depression. For those who have depression, using drugs or alcohol can create a dangerous cycle that they participate in as a way to numb their pain. 

Perhaps you have questions about depression and how it relates to addiction because you have a diagnosis of depression and you currently use drugs or alcohol. You might not have thought about the fact that the two conditions could be linked to each other, and you probably didn’t realize that they could be treated at the same time through dual diagnosis treatment. It is possible to get help for both depression and addiction because of the way they are linked. However, it can also be helpful for you to learn as much as you can about depression so that you can understand the way you feel, and why you feel compelled to reach for drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.

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What is Depression?

It’s important to understand the difference between sadness and depression. Sometimes people will use the two terms interchangeably, but they are very different. Most people have experienced sadness or grief that lasted for a period of time, but their feelings always got better. There are even those who have suffered from having a temporary case of what they might refer to as the blues, but again, their conditions got better. Clinical depression is a condition that is indicated by the DSM V as lasing for at least two weeks. It interferes with your ability to work, causes problems in your social life, and makes it hard for you to maintain strong and healthy relationships. When someone is depressed, they will experience a sense of hopelessness. They will feel sad, but that sadness is magnified. Low energy is also another common complaint among those who have depression.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are several different forms of depression. These include:

  • Persistent depressive disorder – This type of depression lasts for at least two years. Someone who is diagnosed with this type of depression may have bouts of major depression and then times when symptoms seem to get a bit better.
  • Perinatal depression – This type of depression is often referred to as the “baby blues,” but it’s actually much worse. Perinatal depression is diagnosed after the birth of a child when a new mother finds it impossible to care for herself or her baby because of her sadness, anxiety and exhaustion.
  • Psychotic depression – This form of depression is always accompanied by some type of psychosis. For example, an individual may have delusions or hallucinations, and the symptoms always have some type of depressive theme, such as illness or guilt.
  • Seasonal affective disorder – This type of depression returns every year, along with the colder, darker winter months. It is accompanied by social withdrawal and an increase in sleep, along with some other symptoms.
  • Bipolar disorder – This condition is different from depression, but it includes a major depressive state that meets the criteria for a form of depression.

How Do People Develop Depression?

Depression is actually one of the most common mental issues in the United States today. While research is still unclear as to what could possibly cause depression, scientists do agree that there are some risk factors that tend to be common denominators in those who suffer from depression. They are a combination of genetic factors, biological factors, environmental factors and psychological factors.

Some common risk factors for depression include:

  • Having a family member who has a history of depression
  • Experiencing a major life change
  • Living through a traumatic event
  • Having a constant state of feeling stressed
  • Going through certain types of physical illnesses or diseases
  • Taking certain types of medications

Depression can happen to anyone, regardless of age. Usually, however, it does not begin until the adult years. Those who have medical problems such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer are at a very high risk of becoming depressed, and the medications that are prescribed to treat these conditions often list depression as a side effect.

What are the Effects of Depression on the Mind and Body?

When people think about depression, they most often think about the effect it has on moods. While it’s true that depression does heavily influence moods, its reach extends much farther than that. Depression can actually lead to physical discomfort in the body, and this can manifest in a number of different ways. Some of these ways include:

  • Experiencing an increase in aches and pains in the body
  • Experiencing chronic fatigue
  • Having a decreased interest in sex
  • A significantly decreased appetite
  • Having trouble sleeping at night
  • Not experiencing deep sleep
  • Instances of oversleeping

It has also been shown that being depressed increases your risk for developing various illnesses and diseases. It affects the immune system, which can make it very difficult for your body to fight infection. Depression has been linked to heart disease as well.

There are so many people in the United States who live their lives with undiagnosed depression. For these individuals, when they come down with sicknesses, they often fail to disclose their depression symptoms to the doctor. This only perpetuates a vicious cycle of continuing to get sick and then never being truly able to heal.

What are Some Signs of Depression?

It’s possible that you believe you might be depressed, but you’re not really sure if it’s depression, or if you’re just experiencing some sadness or grief at the moment. There are a lot of people who live their lives with undiagnosed depression, and if this is the case for you, it can be helpful to learn more about what some of the signs of depression are. That way, you can have a better understanding of your own situation.

Some warning signs of depression include:

  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic about your future
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Problems with sleeping at night, waking up early or sleeping too much
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • A persistent feeling of sadness or anxiety
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed
  • Contemplating suicide
  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • Difficulty with making decisions
  • A significant decrease in your energy 

According to the DSM V, these symptoms need to have been persisting for at least two weeks in order to be considered symptoms of depression. However, if you notice several of these present in your own life, it’s very possible that you do have depression. Getting a diagnosis right away is very important so that you can get the help you need.

Understanding Teen Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health states that more than 3 million 12-17-year-olds suffer from depression. During the teenage years, young people undergo so many changes in their minds and bodies. Those changes can impact everything in their lives, including how they behave, think and learn. Depression goes beyond the normal ups and downs that are considered typical for teenagers.

Depression can cause teens to have a lot of difficulty managing their daily activities. They may struggle to get their school work done, eat and sleep well. The problem is that many parents chalk the signs of teen depression to typical teenage behavior, which it is anything but.

Depression is a very serious issue for adults as well as for teens. But it can be treated, and with the right care, symptoms can improve over time.

Some of the signs of teen depression are the same for adults, but there are some differences. For example, a young person may be depressed if they:

  • Find themselves constantly feeling sad, anxious or empty.
  • Find themselves feeling hopeless or like everything in their lives is going wrong.
  • Feel worthless or helpless.
  • Feel guilty about things that are not even necessarily their fault.
  • Seem to be irritable most of the time.
  • Spend a lot of time alone, isolating themselves from friends and family.
  • Are experiencing problems in school, including lower grades than normal.
  • Lose interest in activities that were once enjoyable to them.
  • Find that their sleeping or eating habits have changed in a negative way.
  • Frequently feel tired with less energy than normal.
  • Feel restless or having difficulty sitting still.
  • Struggle with memory, making decisions or concentrating.
  • Have considered committing suicide or harming themselves.

When a teen is depressed, they often struggle with physical symptoms as well. They may complain of frequent headaches, cramps or stomach problems, but none of these appear to have a root cause.

How are Depression and Addiction Linked to One Another?

It’s really not surprising that substance abuse and depression are so closely related to each other. People who have a depressive disorder will frequently reach for drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the pain they feel. This may be emotional pain or physical pain. Using substances is a way for them to improve how they feel or get rid of painful thoughts, even if it’s just for a short time. Of course, the effects of drugs and alcohol don’t last for long, which causes people to go right back to using them again right away. Because of this, both depression and addiction feed into each other. Continued substance abuse always makes depression symptoms worse.

The Effects of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Teens’ Developing Brains

Teens are much more susceptible to the negative effects of drug and alcohol abuse because of their developing brains. The teen years are a time when young people embark on finding their own way in life. They are often looking for ways to satisfy their own needs and desires without having to rely on their parents. For many teens, turning to drug or alcohol use is appealing because they seem to be able to offer them solutions for their problems.

But because teens’ brains are not developed yet, using drugs or alcohol can lead to a host of problems. The human brain is comprised of billions of nerve cells, and it is their job to control multiple functions in the body. They send electrical signals through the body that get passed from nerve to nerve by neurotransmitters. Some of these messages are pleasurable (like dopamine), and some are not.

When a teen uses drugs or alcohol, the body gets overloaded with dopamine. Teens experience that reward, and the brain attempts to bring balance by reducing the amount of this chemical over time. Before long, a teen may find that they are not able to feel good, or even like themselves unless they are using.

For adults, bouncing back after drug or alcohol addiction recovery can happen in many cases. But for teens, whose brains are still developing, it can be difficult for the brain to find its way back to its baseline.

Many Teens Suffer From Co-Occurring Disorders

More than half of all teens who use drugs or alcohol also suffer from co-occurring disorders. This term refers to the presence of a mental health issue – like depression – as well as a substance abuse problem. In many cases, the psychiatric problem is present prior to the drug or alcohol use. But this is not always the case. There are some instances when substance abuse comes first and mental illness follows.

Still, both conditions should be treated at the same time. This allows the teen to see the link between the two. It also increases the chance of a successful recovery from both conditions.

Teen drug or alcohol use and depression are a dangerous combination. Depression can occur because of family history, genetics, psychological factors, or environmental influences. The same is true for addiction, so it makes sense that one young person might be suffering from both.

Teens may be hesitant to bring their symptoms to their parents. In fact, they may feel so self-conscious about them that they neglect to confide in anyone about what they are experiencing. Instead, their tendency is often to find their own solutions, and this is why so many turn to drinking and using drugs.

Self-medicating is dangerous for a number of reasons. The teen probably does not understand how much damage they are doing to themselves by using substances. But while the drug or alcohol use might seem to work for a while, the effects seldom last long. Young people usually experience growing tolerance levels. That means that they need to use more to get the same results. They may also combine substances with one another for the same reason.

Binge drinking is a common behavior teens participate in. They view it as something enjoyable, but they do not realize that it puts them at risk for mental health disorders. Depression and anxiety can both strike during the teenage years or later on in adulthood.

A group of doctors and researchers, including Toni Pak, PhD reported the results of a study at the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego. Dr. Pak stated, “Exposing young people to alcohol could permanently disrupt normal connections in the brain that need to be made to ensure healthy adult brain function.”

During their research, they found that alcohol exposure during the adolescent years changes the way the brain triggers the body to produce stress hormones. Chronic exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones has been found to be linked with depression.

Can Dual Diagnosis Treatment Help with Depression and Addiction?

Dual diagnosis treatment can be very helpful for those who suffer from both depression and addiction. In fact, it’s highly recommended that if you are depressed, and you’re currently addicted to drugs or alcohol, you should consider dual diagnosis treatment above any other type of treatment.

Studies have shown that unless the source of the addiction is treated, the addiction is likely to continue. This is true for those who have received addiction treatment only at some of the best facilities in the country. It was once believed that in order to properly treat co-occurring disorders, the addiction should be managed first. This is no longer the recommendation. In fact, most experts agree that the best way to treat co-occurring disorders is by:

  • Providing patients with a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan that addresses their unique needs.
  • Making sure each patient gets an accurate diagnosis for proper treatment.
  • Managing patient medications to ensure that they are not contributing to the addiction or the depression.
  • Providing counseling sessions with a therapist who has been trained to treat co-occurring disorders.
  • Offering group therapy to aid in recovery. 

If you have both an addiction and depression, please know that you’re not alone. There are so many others who have found hope with dual diagnosis treatment.

Help For Teens With Depression and Substance Abuse Problems: The Imagine Program

Imagine by Northpoint is the name of our teen mental health and substance abuse program in Nampa, Idaho. This program specifically targets individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. We offer outpatient treatment in a day treatment setting that is quite intensive.

Our clients participate in group therapy, individual therapy sessions and family therapy. They also receive schooling, case management services and nursing care.

The goal with Imagine by Northpoint is to provide teens and their families with a high-quality recovery option. So many of them feel lost, and even when a parent offers substantial support and guidance, professional help is critical for young people.

We monitor teens very closely during the Imagine program. They meet twice a week with our psychiatrist to evaluate their progress. During that time, we make any needed medication adjustments and provide other forms of treatment.

Choosing Northpoint Recovery for Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment

Whether you’ve suffered with depression for most of your adult life, or your diagnosis of depression is still relatively new to you, if you’re using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate in an attempt to help yourself feel better, you’re heading down a very dangerous road. Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is never the answer when you suffer from depression. However, so many people make the decision to do so. Quite often, they don’t realize the type of help that is available to them, and dual diagnosis treatment can change your outlook on life.

Here at Northpoint Recovery, we offer dual diagnosis treatment as a way to provide help to those who suffer from depression and addiction. We believe that one should never be treated without treating the other at the same time. Yet, there are so many different facilities and clinics that believe just the opposite. In our experience, we’ve had great success with helping people overcome their addictions by treating their depression symptoms too, and we’d like to do the same thing for you.

If you would like to get more information about how we can help you with dual diagnosis treatment here at Northpoint Recovery, we would love to talk with you. Please contact us today to learn more.

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