Dual Diagnosis: Drinking and Depression

Dual diagnosis treatment

Drinking and depression, or dual diagnosis, go hand in hand. There are over 16 million adults struggling with clinical depression in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. There are over 350 million people who struggle with depression globally. That’s a lot of people who battle depressive moods regularly, and many of them aren’t sure how to cope with such strong negative emotions.

For some who struggle with depression, they may try to cope by drinking.  Maybe they experienced feeling depressed, yet went out to have a few drinks with friends. Once they started drinking, they may have temporarily felt better, as alcohol gives the brain a dopamine boost that can bring on a feeling of euphoria.

That connection that was made in the brain when they associated feeling better with drinking could very well have set them up to continue the behavior over and over.  Thus, they believe that drinking helps their depression decrease. Or, they drink to numb the emotional pain that they feel, and this drinking to cope can lead to alcohol dependence and full-blown alcoholism. This is termed dual diagnosis.

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder that causes people to think and feel very sad.  It’s not just having a sad day or two. Rather, it’s a serious medical condition that can affect a person’s life in many ways.  It can lead to severe emotional problems, and sometimes physical problems too.

Here are some symptoms of clinical depression:

  • Feeling extremely sad
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleeping much more than usual or trouble sleeping
  • Lack of appetite or over-eating
  • Self-sabotaging thoughts or actions
  • Losing interest in doing things you once enjoyed
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Suicidal thoughts

Now, sometimes we all go through a period of sadness. These times don’t necessarily mean it’s clinical depression. To be diagnosed with depression by a mental health professional, depressive symptoms will have to last two weeks or more. Additionally, the severity of depression can vary from mild to moderate to severe.

What is Dysthymia?

Dysthymia is a chronic, low-level depression affecting nearly 8% of the U.S. population. A person is said to have Dysthymia if one suffers from the following symptoms for more than two years.

  1. Sleep disorders like insomnia or hypersomnia.
  2. Overeating or poor appetite.
  3. Sudden loss of weight.
  4. Concentration and decision-making issues.
  5. Feeling depressed or unhappy for most of the day.

A person suffering from Dysthymia will be dependent on someone and may worry a lot about being perfect. For example, consider shopping for a dress along with a friend. A normal person will take some suggestions from the friend and choose a dress they like. They will wear it happily feeling beautiful and confident.

A person suffering from Dysthymia will start panicking thinking about which dress to choose in the first place. He/she will try to rely on the friend’s decision completely for the fear of rejection and low self-esteem. Once they wear the dress, they will worry unnecessarily whether it fits them correctly. They will be completely sure that they look horrible in the dress and keep worrying about the whole process, killing all the happiness in the event.

This is just one example. People suffering from Dysthymia make their life very complicated by worrying for each and every small thing in their life. If unattended, the condition can lead to immense stress, very low self-confidence, social behavior problems, and sometimes substance abuse issues (dual diagnosis) in an attempt to decrease the anxiety and depression. Women and people with very shy nature are the major victims of Dysthymia.

Dual diagnosis: Treatment is available

Though there are many antidepressants prescribed for the dysthymic disorder, it is a perception based condition like many other stress-related disorders. Proper counseling, strong family support and involvement in practices like yoga or physical exercises will help a lot. If alcoholism has become an issue, going to an inpatient or outpatient rehab can help treat both the dysthymia and alcohol dependence.

Having a relaxing hobby like painting, playing musical instruments, sewing, etc. will also help in diverting the patients from their imaginary troubles.

Signs of alcoholism

Maybe you feel as if you’re struggling with depression and you drink to try to feel better.  But maybe you drink more than you want to, and oftentimes wake up regretting your decision to drink. A dual diagnosis such as this happens quite a bit, so know that you’re not alone in this type of cycle.

Symptoms of alcoholism

  • Not being able to stop drinking when you want
  • Needing alcohol in order to get through the day or evening
  • Needing alcohol in order to go to sleep
  • Going through withdrawal when you stop drinking
  • Lying about your drinking habits
  • Hiding alcohol from your loved ones so they don’t know you’re drinking
  • Basing your life around drinking

It’s not always easy to know if you’re struggling with alcoholism, but if you are concerned, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional.  You’ll be able to be assessed for your drinking habits, as well as any emotional issues that may be occurring. If the therapists find that you indeed struggle with both alcoholism and depression, they will treat you for dual diagnosis, meaning two diagnoses.

Fortunately, there are treatment options for both alcoholism and depression. Many people have found hope in attending an inpatient or outpatient rehab facility. Others turn to 12 Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.  The point is that there are paths to recovery, and it’s up to you to find out what path works for you.

Oftentimes, people choose multiple treatment modules, such as inpatient treatment, followed by regular 12 Step meetings, and other sources of treatment, such as a hobby, counseling, or exercising.

Exercise in recovery

On your recovery path, it’s fairly normal to get the blues every once in a while.  Sometimes things just don’t go your way, the thing you have been hoping for falls through, hormones surge way more than you’d like, or for no reason at all, you just feel sad.  What do you do when those days come? Do you dwell on all the negative things in your life?  Do you lie in bed all day and wallow in self-pity? Whine to your partner and drive them half crazy?  Start drinking to cope?

Oh, the blues can certainly be something to contend with! I want to encourage you today that there is a way to get rid of those blues faster than you think.  You do not have to sit through 20 episodes of Friends hoping to stir up your happy chemicals so that you can put on a real smile.  What you can do is get up and do some sort of physical activity.

Yes, exercise is known to take the frown and turn it upside down in no time. In fact, way back in the 1700’s doctors in Scotland who were dealing with patients with depression prescribed that they get up and do some serious farm Addiction Recovery for Every Issuechores because they knew the physical activity would stir up their endorphins (happy chemicals) and transform their moods.

The same goes for today. While you’re navigating your recovery path, consider performing regular exercise. Feeling sad?  Tired of feeling sick and tired? Get up and commit to some sort of physical activity. You can go for a brisk walk around the block or in nature, take your bike for a ride, mow your yard, play tennis with a friend, get on the elliptical, hit the golf course, hike a hiking trail, or any other activity that sounds appealing.  The act of getting your cardiovascular system and muscles moving releases endorphins in your body and endorphins are chemicals that give you a sense of well-being. This is why so many people exercise- because they FEEL BETTER afterward mentally and physically.

Chronic stress blues

We live in a society that seems to always be in a hurry. We have fast-food, drive-thru, and instant everything.  We do not want to wait and we feel rushed more often than we should. It can all lead to chronic stress, which can certainly lead to feeling blue.  Chronic stress wears your immune system down and when you are not feeling up to par physically, you won’t feel up to par mentally.  This is why we see burnout and mental breakdowns occur; people do not know how to reduce and minimize stress.

Exercise is proven to reduce stress, which is helpful for feeling happier and more relaxed. Too many families are stressed out, burned out, and living life in a constant state of sadness.  They tend to minimize the importance of slowing down, taking deep breaths, enjoying the little things, and keeping themselves fit.  A simple 30 minute walk each day will people a world of good, yet so many fail to follow through with this.

As you navigate your recovery path, you can exercise those blues away if you will just make the commitment to “just do it” regardless of how you feel. Even if you have every good reason to lie in bed and sulk, get up anyway and get moving. You might be surprised at how quickly you forget about the reasons you could be sad. You might even learn to love exercising and look forward to it! Life’s too short to allow the blues to control you!

Reach out for help

Are you struggling with depression? Drinking too much? Know that dual diagnosis treatment is available, and you don’t have to struggle alone any longer.  There are mental health and substance abuse professionals ready and willing to help you struggle less and feel happy more often. It will take some time, and it may take trying different things, but the reality is that treatment exists and all you have to do is take some steps toward beginning your treatment.

Sometimes our expectations of circumstances and people will not be met, and if we are dependent upon them to feel happy, we will sadly be brought down.  People will hurt us, fail us, and unexpected things happen all the time in relationships, jobs, finances, health, and so on.

But you don’t have to let such things keep you in a state of depression. Give yourself permission to reach out for help today. If you’d like to discuss inpatient alcohol treatment options, we are here to assist you in getting the best treatment for you.  Simply give us a call now.