What You Need to Know About Depression and Drug Use

Depression and drug use is a bigger problem than many realize. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), depression affects more than 10% of the U.S. population. That’s more than 19 million people struggling with clinical depression. Sure, it’s understandable to have a sad couple of days every so often due to something problematic at home, in a relationship, at work, or even hormones. A short bout of sadness or feelings of melancholy are actually quite common, but for people that struggle with depression, that short period of sadness tends to linger on and on, often times getting worse as time goes by. This is considered clinical depression, a mental disorder that certainly affects the person diagnosed and his or her family.

Depression naturally causes one’s central nervous system to change, causing symptoms like sadness, fatigue, and hopelessness. Experiencing these feelings sometimes causes some people to reach out for drugs in an attempt to feel better or to numb the negative feelings.  They think that getting high on a drug is solving their depression problem, and it may give them a short period of relief, but it’s actually making matters worse.  Oftentimes, depression and drug use go hand in hand, which is a double whammy for those who are caught in the grip.

Have you ever felt so terrible that you craved a drink or a drug to get that temporary high? Or to numb the pain? This happens very frequently for people. Some become addicted to the alcohol or drugs, and others might use the substances for a while and then stop. They may start to feel better emotionally and decide not to keep using substances, or they might just get tired of trying to cope with their emotions by abusing substances.

Regardless, using booze or drugs in an attempt to numb pain or feel better never actually makes people feel better. Sure, they may get a short feeling of euphoria, but before they know it, it’s gone.

Dual Diagnosis

When a person is diagnosed with clinical depression and abuses alcohol or drugs, it is called Dual Diagnosis- meaning two diagnoses. Essentially, this diagnosis is made when someone who has any mental health disorder (depression, bipolar, psychosis, etc.) combines the use of alcohol or drugs.  According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, about 33 percent of those who have addiction issues also tend to struggle with a serious form of depression.

Dual diagnosis is fairly common and is often discovered when someone enters a detox or rehab center. This is one reason it’s a good idea to attend an alcohol or drug rehab so that you can be evaluated by mental health and addiction professionals. If indeed you do struggle with the diagnosis of depression and substance abuse, you’ll be in a great place to receive help for both.

What is clinical depression?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), a clinical depression diagnosis can be made when one’s depressive state lasts for two weeks or longer and tends to affect one’s relationships, work, school, and social endeavors.

Here are various symptoms of clinical depression that may be experienced consistently:

  • Desire to sleep much of the time or not be able to sleep well
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Little to no energy
  • Body aches
  • Crying spells
  • Little to no self-worth
  • Extreme sadness
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Isolating yourself
  • Lack of concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

When depression hits, it certainly affects the emotional state. For women, feelings of extreme sadness, aloneness, and hopelessness are common. For men, sadness and hopelessness may be accompanied by feelings of extreme anger or irritability. Keep in mind that clinical depression is a mental state that differs from one’s normal mental state.  It’s not just a period of sadness that passes in a short time, like when you lose a loved one and grieve for a while; it’s prolonged sadness that can affect every area of your life.

A bridge to addiction

Some people who suffer from depression gravitate toward alcohol and/or drugs as a way to cope with the extreme sad feelings. By doing so, they attempt to numb the negative feelings or simply escape them for a little while. This is oftentimes called “self-medicating”, though alcohol and drugs are not really medications. In fact, using drugs to try to cope with depression can lead one to severe depression and a full-blown addiction.

Am I an addict?

There are common signs of those who become addicted to drugs. Here are the most common signs:

  • You cannot stop using your drug of choice, even if you really want to
  • Your tolerance for the drug increases, needing more of it to get the desired effect
  • You base your life around that drug
  • The drug use is causing problems in your life, such as in your relationship, work, school, or other areas
  • You go through withdrawal when you stop using the drugs
  • You lie about how much and how often you are using drugs

The relationship between depression and drug use

With depression and drug use often going hand in hand, it’s important to understand the treatment model concerning such. Let’s say you’ve been smoking marijuana for years to try to contend with feelings of depression. What do you treat first? If you stop smoking marijuana, will the depression go away? If you get treatment for the depression, will your desire to smoke it decrease?

These are great questions. The majority of professionals assert that both conditions need to be treated, with the mental health issue primarily treated first.  Many rehabs now offer integrated treatment, as the patient will need counseling for both the depression and the substance abuse.  Through a reputable treatment program, you will be able to:

  • Detox with professional staff monitoring and assisting
  • Get adequate counseling for both diagnoses
  • Receive proper aftercare planning
  • Get educated on the nature of depression and addiction
  • Learn adequate coping and life skills
  • Receive abundant motivation and support for moving forward
  • Get positive momentum going
  • Possible medication therapy, if need be

If you’re struggling with depression and drug use, know that there is hope and help available. You are not alone in this and treatment is quite effective in treating both conditions. In addition to an alcohol or drug rehab, there are 12 step support groups that can assist you in your recovery. There’s Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous,  and at both groups, you will be able to get a sponsor and begin working the 12 Steps one by one. Working the steps will not assure that you can overcome your depression, but they can certainly help you refrain from drinking or drug and in order to contend with emotional issues.

Some people do find that their depression decreases as they engage in a recovery program. They may make several friends and feel part of the group. They may be encouraged by the support that they get, and find that their symptoms of depression lessen over time. Granted, some people will require attending professional counseling in order to contend with their depression. For some, it may be necessary to take medication in order to lessen the depressive symptoms as well.

Dual diagnosis: Reach out for help

If you’re struggling with substance abuse issues and/or depression, know that you are not alone and that there’s no shame in asking for help. Some people will allow their pride to keep them from talking about their problems, but this will only keep them stuck in the muck of addiction and emotional distress.

There are millions of suffering addicts and alcoholics out there. You do not have to be one of them. Make it your aim to reach out for help as soon as possible. Begin to confide in those closest to you with your concerns. Make a plan as to how you’ll go about your recovery.

Do you feel led to attend a 12-step group? Are you able to attend an inpatient alcohol or drug rehab? Are you willing to attend outpatient substance abuse classes? What about counseling?  Do you think you have a dual diagnosis? When it comes to recovery, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Determine what is the best course of action for your life. And, if one avenue isn’t working, try something different.

Know that there is a beautiful life on the other side of addiction. It will require some effort from you, and a humble spirit. It will require you admitting that you’re having trouble doing this on your own. But by admitting this, you’re taking the first step toward freedom and that beautiful life. There may be struggles along the way, so surround yourself with those who will support you and encourage you. This can be family and friends, or peers that you meet at a support group. Just knowing you have someone to count on can be of great help!

You can beat dual diagnosis and create the kind of life that you really want with hard work, discipline, humility, and a great deal of optimism. Simply reach out for help and take your first step toward recovery, freedom, and a beautiful life full of happiness.