Many people wonder if depression is linked to substance abuse, but the answer is rather ambiguous in that the two often, but not always, go hand-in-hand. There are definitely those that suffer from mental health problems such as depression and who self-medicate with harmful substances like alcohol or drugs.

Since these chemical substances can alter the way the mind functions, those struggling with feelings of depression might be tempted to use them to help them forget about their troubles. But what many people do not realise is that substance abuse can also be the catalyst for mental health problems.

Studies have shown that individuals struggling with an alcohol problem are twice as likely to be using medication for mental health problems such as depression than those who drink in moderation. Moreover, in 2014, half of those who were in treatment for drug addiction were also getting help for a mental health condition.

What is Depression?

It is not uncommon to feel depressed from time to time, but when these feelings persist, and when they begin to interfere with everyday life, you may require treatment. Depression comes in many different forms and at its mildest, it can make you feel extremely unhappy but does not affect your ability to lead a normal life.

When it is severe though it can take over completely and make life feel as though it is not worth living. The sufferer may feel so strongly in terms of life being worthless that he or she may get to a point of contemplating suicide. If you are feeling this way, you should seek help immediately.

What are the Symptoms of Depression

Although there are several types of depression – including post-natal depression, prenatal depression, dysthymia, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD– many of the symptoms will be the same. So if you have depression, you might experience a few of the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Numbness
  • A feeling of worthlessness and low self-esteem
  • Intense sadness or unhappiness
  • A feeling of hopelessness or despair
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Furthermore, if you are struggling with the above symptoms, you might begin isolating yourself from others and withdrawing from social events. You could even stop doing the things that you previously enjoyed. As your depression continues, you may begin to feel sluggish and tired and you might find it difficult to sleep.

Depression can lead to a loss of appetite, which in turn could lead to weight loss. On the flip-side, you could find comfort in food and start binge eating to make you feel better. Or you might begin abusing substances such as alcohol or drugs.

Why is Depression Linked to Substance Abuse?

Depression is often the cause of substance abuse, with those who suffer from symptoms such as unhappiness, guilt, low self-worth, and hopelessness finding comfort in drugs or alcohol. Mood-altering substances can provide temporary relief because they have the effect of dulling the senses and lifting the mood.

The chemicals in drugs and alcohol can have a profound effect on certain areas of the brain. They are known to stimulate the receptors that are responsible for feelings of pleasure, and it is this can help some people to forget about their problems for a while.

Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs do not provide permanent relief and so the reason for the depression will still be there when the effects of the chemicals wear off. In addition, what often happens is that a tolerance to the chemicals will build up. To achieve the desired effects then, you will need to take more drugs or drink more alcohol, thus increasing the risk of a physical or psychological dependence.

So instead of having a mental health problem that requires treatment, you will now have what is known as a dual diagnosis – a mental health condition coupled with a substance abuse problem. In the long-term, self-medicating a problem such as depression with mood-altering chemicals can make matters much worse.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that not everyone abuses alcohol or drugs because they are struggling with depression. Some individuals drink alcohol or take drugs for recreational purposes, but then allow their use of these substances to get out of control. If the person then develops an addiction, he or she may be at risk of developing a mental health problem, depression possibly being one.

Getting Help for a Dual Diagnosis

If you have a dual diagnosis, treatment might be more complicated than if you were to get treatment for just a mental health problem or an addiction alone. As both issues must be addressed simultaneously, your treatment programme will be more intense, and you will require specialist intervention.

There is no point in treating the addiction without also treating the mental health problem as both conditions are co-occurring and are linked. The good news, though, is that there are many different treatments that can help those suffering from a dual diagnosis.

The important thing is to identify the presence of both conditions, as many of the symptoms of each illness are similar. It is easy to mistake symptoms such as depression as being caused solely by the addiction without realising that the individual has deeper issues that have led to the mental health condition.

What Treatments Can be Used for Depression?

There are many different therapies that can be utilised by the counsellors and therapists who are treating both depression and substance misuse. Individual counselling, for example, is typically used to help patient and counsellor develop a trusting relationship.

It is important that you learn to trust your counsellor because that way you will be more inclined to be open and honest about your feelings and the issues that are affecting you. You are also likely to take part in group therapy sessions, particularly if you are treated in a residential facility. Group therapy has become an important part of any treatment programme because it helps you to develop a support network. You will also learn how to share your experiences and stories with others, which itself is a therapeutic exercise that most patients find beneficial.

In addition to traditional talking and behavioural therapy, you might also find that holistic treatments are used. Many holistic therapies like mindfulness, massage, and yoga can help to lift the mood, reduce feelings of stress, and improve overall wellbeing. They are therefore useful tools in the treatment of conditions such as depression.

Maintaining Your Recovery

After a programme of recovery, you will return to the normal everyday living, which will mean learning how to manage the symptoms of your illness. As part of your recovery programme, you will probably be taught various coping skills to help prevent a return to substance abuse.

You will also learn how to manage maladaptive thoughts so that they do not consume you and become a force that drives negative behaviour. You will more than likely be encouraged by your treatment provider to access a local support group where you can go for regular meetings with others who are also recovering from similar illnesses to yours. Having this support network in place after your rehab programme can help you to stay on the right track.

If you would like more information about depression or substance abuse, please call Liberty House Clinic today. If the question of ‘is substance abuse linked to depression?’ is something that you have been pondering for a while, we can provide further information that might help to make things a little clearer in your mind.

We are here to answer any queries you might have and to provide information that you may find relevant in terms of overcoming illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, or both. Please call to find out how we can help you regain control of your life.