Depression directly affects millions of people. It’s one of the most common psychiatric disorders people suffer from. Substance abuse is typically viewed as a different issue altogether. However, the two may be more connected than many people realize. Because of their close connection, we are often left with a ‘chicken or the egg’ type question, in determining what causes what: Does depression lead to addiction, or does addiction lead to depression?
Many common addictions are actually called ‘depressants,’ such as alcohol. Alcohol can trigger feelings of sadness and make you feel lethargic. However, many people use alcohol as a crutch when they are feeling low, to lift their spirits for a short time. As you can see, It’s not always easy to differentiate the two problems. They are so connected, in fact, that the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has reported that 1 in 3 adults who struggle with some type of addiction also suffer from depression.
What are the Warning Signs of Addiction?
Depression can easily open up an individual to addiction. Again, many people who become addicted to a substance initially reach for it to stop feeling so depressed. This isn’t to say that having a glass of alcohol or trying a different substance automatically will lead to addiction, but there are some important warning signs to look out for. Some of the most common signs of addiction include things like a heavy tolerance for the substance, and withdrawals if the substance is taken away.
Withdrawals are nothing to take lightly if addiction and depression are linked. Individuals who have abused a substance for too long can actually become even more depressed if they are deprived of it. Unfortunately, the substance is often used as a ‘blanket’ to cover depression, and that psychiatric state only shows up with the substance is removed.
When these two problems are linked, it’s important to treat them both. Trying to treat one without the other typically ends in failure, and it’s not common for the individual struggling with the problems to simply ‘give up’ on the process.
Treating Depression and Addiction Together
To treat depression and addiction together first requires a dual diagnosis, which is why it’s so important to know the warning signs of addiction in the first place. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests an integrated approach to treatment of these two conditions, including things like:
- Guiding the individual to discover the source of their depression
- Understanding that a full recovery from both conditions is completely possible
- Finding motivational techniques the individual can use to make changes
Changing and redirecting addictive behaviors
The most important thing to remember is that help is available. The most important resources a person struggling with addiction and depression can have are support and encouragement from friends and loved ones. A dual diagnosis is never easy, especially when you have two conditions that can depend on each other so strongly. But, with the right support, a willingness to get help, and the right techniques, beating both conditions is not impossible. If you, or someone you know, is dealing with this type of connection, know the warning signs, and know that with a dual diagnosis, it’s possible to finally find relief.
Dr. Jeffrey Ditzel is a Psychiatrist in New York City and specializes in issues involving Anxiety & Depression.