The Co-Occurring Disorders of Substance Abuse and Depression

Addiction and mental health issues often go hand in hand and it can be difficult to tell which came first. In order to successfully treat addiction, mental health issues must also be addressed.

Major depressive disorder is more than the blues or feeling down. It’s not something that a person can “snap out of” or “get over” by force of will. It is a common and serious medical condition that impacts the way you think, feel, and act. Symptoms include feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, and empty. You may experience persistent sadness and tiredness. You may have trouble sleeping, or you may want to sleep all the time. You might gain or lose weight, and you might lose interest in activities that you used to enjoy.

To cope with these feelings, you may start to drink or use drugs, or use these substances more often or in greater quantities. You would like to cut back or quit, but you can’t. Now you have added addiction to the issues you face. You have a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder: major depressive and substance use disorders.

You Are Not Alone

You are not the only one to struggle with a co-occurring disorder--far from it. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), in 2018 nearly 9.2 million people in the United States were diagnosed with both substance use disorder and a mental health issue. A dual diagnosis of depression and substance abuse puts people at an increased risk of suicide as well as social and personal impairment.

Links Between Depression and Substance Abuse

While it is not completely accurate to say that one condition causes the other, and it can be difficult to say which disorder came first, the depression or the addiction, there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and major depressive disorder. People with depression often use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. While this can bring relief in the short term, in the long term, substance abuse usually makes depression worse. It is also thought that substance abuse can cause symptoms of depression. Additionally, drugs or alcohol can interact with antidepressants, making them less effective.

Treating Depression and Substance Abuse

In the past, many drug and alcohol treatment centers only focused on treating addiction. This meant that any mental health issues that may have contributed to the addiction went unaddressed, setting the person up for relapse when the next crisis came along. Fortunately, many facilities now treat both substance use disorder and any mental health issues that the person may have. If the patient’s addiction is to be treated effectively, the depression must be treated as well. Otherwise, the patient may not be able to maintain a life of sobriety. 

If you are looking for a treatment center and you have major depressive disorder and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, look for a center that is licensed to treat co-occurring disorders. The center should involve you in goal setting for your treatment plan, provide education about both disorders, and teach you the life skills that you need to manage both.

Effective Self-Help

While no self-help measures can take the place of professional help, there are steps you can take to make your symptoms more manageable.

Learn techniques to reduce stress levels. Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but you can become better at managing it. Meditation and deep breathing techniques can be very helpful. If you are new to meditation, there are many apps you can find to guide you through the process.

Learn what triggers you to drink or use drugs. Recognize these triggers and use strategies to cope with them without using drugs or alcohol.

Be aware of your health. Exercise for 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week. Eat nutritious food and get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

Do something for someone else. Volunteer with a non-profit organization in your community. Take in the trash cans for a neighbor. Fix a meal for someone who is ill or has had a death in the family. Doing something for someone else will take the focus off of your own difficulties and will make you feel better. Helping other people either individually or through an organization will give you a sense of purpose and a reason to get up in the morning.

Having the dual diagnosis of major depression and substance use disorder can seem overwhelming, but with professional mental health treatment and self-help measures, you will find relief and recovery.

At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that substance abuse frequently has at its roots a mental health issue like depression. It is imperative to treat the mental health issues as well as the addiction as the needs of the whole person must be addressed in order for treatment to be effective. Enlightened Solutions offers a comprehensive recovery program rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. We create a custom treatment plan for each patient based on their needs and goals for recovery. We offer traditional psychotherapy as well as a host of alternative therapies that include sound healing, art and music therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic work, massage, yoga and meditation classes, equine therapy, and family constellation therapy.  We are located on the southern shore of New Jersey. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, and looking for a place to begin their journey of recovery, call us at (833) 801-5483.


How to Apply the 12-Step Program to Your Life 

While we’re still in the start of the new year with spring right around the corner, you may be considering ways that you can boost your recovery journey and enhance your daily life. New Year’s resolutions made with good intention have been left by the wayside, especially if goals are lofty and steps aren’t being made. However, you may still wish to strengthen your coping mechanisms, participate more in our support groups and engage in more material that uplifts the soul. If you’re currently seeking treatment at Enlightened Solutions, you’ve achieved an incredible feat – recovery is the first step towards greater living. No matter how challenging life can seem at times, it’s good to know that you’re not alone; as you’ll likely discover, there are so many people who are working hard to enrich their lives as well – and while it all takes hard work and dedication, the 12-Step program can help people achieve their recovery goals. 

The 12-Step Program: What it Is

Originally developed in 1938, 12-Step programs have changed the lives of thousands of people by providing them with tools and resources to heal. 12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are meant for anyone and everyone – and the fellowship provided can greatly help people feel supported as they navigate recovery. In 12-Step programs, anonymity is a crucial component so that members feel safe – and that helps people to express themselves more freely in meetings as well.

 In Akron, Ohio, Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, two men who had battled with substance abuse, designed 12-Step programs based on what had worked for them personally in achieving sobriety: 

  •   Abstinence
  •   Fellowship with others
  •   Surrendering to a higher spiritual power

They ultimately wanted to create something that brought people together to gain a connection with a higher power, with honest, peer support and spirituality being several crucial components to recovery. Now, there are 12-Step programs that have become expanded all over the world – and their aim is now to not only help those who struggle with substance use disorders, but also those who battle with other addiction issues, such as gambling, sex, technology addiction, and others. Certain spiritual components associated with inner growth include humility – and 12-Step groups talk about these types of concepts while also allowing people to engage in discussion about these ideas. Humility is an incredibly important tool for healing because it allows us to gain perspective by doing the following:

  1. Realizing that a higher power has more control than our sense of ego
  2. Being honest with other people about our faults
  3. Attempting to make amends with others when possible
  4. Viewing recovery as a way towards greater spiritual connection

There are a number of topics that can be covered throughout the 12-Steps, such as honesty, faith, surrender, willingness, forgiveness, recovery maintenance and more. If you’re looking to really get involved in a 12-Step program this upcoming year, it’s time to get started.

 12-Step Program Application

The great part about 12-Step programs is that they’re incredibly straightforward and allow for easy application of what’s been learned in meetings. Even though each person may be experiencing something different, the reality is that the underlying pain is quite universal; this way, peers and advocates in recovery can be sure to speak the same type of “language” with one another because it’s through emotion and pain – and that is something everyone can relate to. If you’re looking for something that can be used to help you in daily life, 12-Step programs are incredibly helpful to get you there – and they’re not meant to serve as a cure.

It's easy to apply the 12-Steps if you think about it:

  1. Make a visual representation of the 12-Steps. Consider each step specifically and what it means to you, and this will make it much easier to apply to your daily life.
  2. Acknowledge some of the major questions that you may be having about the 12-Steps. For example, you may be wondering if you have any fears about believing in something greater than yourself – or you may like to contemplate on what the idea of sobriety means to you. Thinking and even writing out your answers in a journal can help you solidify the 12-Steps in your daily life.
  3. Read books that promote what you’re doing. Go to a library and take a look around – get recommendations from those who are in your 12-Step program. Reading can often open the gateway towards other perspectives and life circumstances, which can enhance your recovery.
  4. Make an active decision to add more love and connection into your life. Focus on looking at the good qualities that you have, as well as the good qualities in others. Connect with a Higher Power through meditation, prayer, nature walks and more. 

At Enlightened Solutions, we want to help you heal from addiction and are committed to putting you and your recovery first. We offer a comprehensive range of services including outpatient treatment, post-rehab services, continuing care, and long-term treatment including 12-Step programs. Enlightened Solutions offers a safe and nurturing space for recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.