Depression is a serious mental disorder that affects an estimated 1 in 10 Americans. Unfortunately, clinical and severe depression often goes untreated, with less than 50 percent of depression sufferers world-wide receiving the care they need (per the World Health Organization). As a result, we’ve seen a troublesome correlation develop between depression and substance abuse.

Without proper treatment, men and women struggling with the effects of depression are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. This dual diagnosis of substance abuse and depression leave victims stuck in a dangerous cycle that could be extremely difficult to overcome. By addressing both the addiction and the co-occuring mental disorder, a person can finally heal from their depression and recover from substance abuse.

What is a Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when a person struggles with both a mental disorder (such as depression or anxiety) and a substance abuse problem. There are many examples of a dual diagnosis, such as alcoholism and depression or anxiety and opioid addiction. Often, an underlying mental disorder can make a person more susceptible to developing a problem with drugs or alcohol.

Common factors that can contribute to a dual diagnosis include:

  • Relieving stress or anxiety with the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Family history of addiction or mental illness
  • Past traumatic experiences
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope with feelings of depression or loneliness

In the case of substance abuse and addiction, there is many times an underlying co-occuring disorder – a condition, such as anxiety or depression, that may further fuel an addiction or make it more difficult to overcome. When this happens, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis.

Those who suffer from a dual diagnosis must be properly treated for their substance abuse and their co-occuring mental disorder in order to fully recover and rehabilitate. If only the substance abuse is addressed, rehabilitation is far less likely and generally results in relapse. The co-occurring disorder must also be treated to provide dual diagnosis victims with the best path to recovery.

Recognizing Depression

It’s important to realize that depression is a serious mental disorder. Depression impacts the daily lives of millions of people across the globe, but is far too often brushed aside or overlooked as a mere case of sadness.

How can you tell if you or someone you love is suffering from depression? Common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Irregular sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
  • Difficulty concentrating or keeping focus
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies or activities
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Lack of motivation

Suffering from clinical depression is not the same as being sad. Depression can be extremely debilitating and may be life threatening due to suicidal tendencies or self harm. Professional treatment can help overcome the symptoms of depression and prevent or put an end to related substance abuse problems.

How are Depression and Substance Abuse Related?

Because depression is left untreated in more than 50 percent of cases, a dual diagnosis of depression and substance abuse is unfortunately extremely common.

Many depression sufferers turn to drugs or alcohol to cope or protect themselves from the painful symptoms of the condition. As they attempt to escape daily life and the effects of their depression, they self-medicate with their substance of choice. This creates a dangerous cycle as the substance abuse and depression feed off each other and make it increasingly difficult to recover from either.

For example, alcohol naturally depresses the nervous system and can lead to side effects such as lethargy or hopelessness. The substance abuse merely acts as a temporary “bandage” for the depression, which results in a person increasing their use as they desperately seek comfort. Ultimately, in an attempt to relieve the symptoms of depression, an addiction to drugs or alcohol may form.

What are the Signs of Addiction?

  • Dangerous build in tolerance to a substance as a result of increased usage.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, or physical weakness when stopping or reducing substance use.
  • Feeling of guilt when using the substance/self-medicating.
  • Relapse after quitting and difficulty avoiding long-term.

What are the Most Common Conditions with a Dual Diagnosis?

There are many different mental health conditions that can contribute to a dual diagnosis. Use of drugs or alcohol is a common coping mechanism for people suffering from mental disorders such as:

  • Anxiety Disorders: Someone who experiences frequent anxiety or panic attacks (ie: with general anxiety disorder) may rely on the use of drugs or alcohol to “take the edge off” or dull their anxiety symptoms.
  • Depression: Depression is extremely common among dual diagnosis sufferers. A person dealing with symptoms of depression may seek out drugs like opioids for their euphoric effects. However, as a person’s tolerance increases, they may begin taking larger amounts of the drug to experience the same effects – thus leading to dependency and addiction.
  • Bipolar Disorder: People who suffer from bipolar disorder may attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a means to minimize the intensity of bipolar episodes. This, however, can ultimately lead to even more bipolar episodes and an unhealthy addiction.

PTSD and Traumatic Experiences: Patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may use drugs or alcohol to escape from flashbacks or night terrors associated with a past event that had caused extreme stress. However, as their dependence on drugs or alcohol increases, an addiction can develop and lead to more serious issues with sleep and emotional imbalance.

Can Drugs Lead to Anxiety and Depression?

The connection between substance abuse and depression works both ways. While depression symptoms may cause a person to seek relief from drugs or alcohol, those very same substances can also cause feelings of anxiety or depression. In cases where depression did not exist before substance abuse, it is possible to develop depression-like symptoms as a result of one’s addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Overcoming Substance Abuse and Depression

Treatment is possible to defeat a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and depression. Our team is experienced in providing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction while also addressing the co-occurring mental disorders that often make it difficult to recover. With dual diagnosis focused treatments, victims are able to heal from their depression and finally overcome their battle with substance abuse.

Substance Abuse and Depression Treatment at Beachway

If you or a loved one is suffering from a dual diagnosis, Beachway Therapy Centers can help. We are located in the beautiful West Palm Beach, Florida, where our dual diagnosis patients are provided with a safe, drug-free environment to focus on their road to recovery. Our substance abuse and depression treatment is designed to treat both factors of the patient’s dual diagnosis – helping each to understand and cope with their symptoms of depression while simultaneously treating their drug or alcohol problem. We provide patients with personalized inpatient residential treatment, as well as ongoing outpatient care to help maintain a healthy and addiction-free life.