A Dual Diagnosis: Depression & Substance Abuse

It’s tough to live with a mental illness without professional guidance, support, and coping techniques to soften the symptoms. Some days are so unbearable that an individual who is suffering may turn to drugs and alcohol, thinking these substances may temporarily ease the pain. When the side effects fade, the individual may feel stuck with the choice to endure more suffering or look for more substances to mask the constant discomfort. Day after day this same decision presents itself and the individual may then begin to suffer from both mental illness and substance abuse, simultaneously.

The reverse situation is also true. An individual suffering from substance abuse is very likely to develop depression. This deepens the wound, building feelings of helplessness with no signs of an end to the suffering. A steep slope like this requires immediate professional treatment and support for the individual experiencing symptoms. The sooner help is sought out, the better the chances are for a successful recovery.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Nearly 7% of American adults suffer from some sort of mental illness, and unfortunately, mental illness is also prevalent among adolescents. When a person struggles with both substance abuse and mental illness, this is known as a dual diagnosis. To explain further, we will use the example of a dual diagnosis of depression and substance abuse, although any mental illness could be the co-occurring disorder.

Around one third of adults who have a substance abuse disorder also report suffering from depression. This theory goes both ways as depression is strongly linked to substance abuse, where most individuals suffering from depression are prone to use substances to mask feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Most substances themselves, such as alcohol and opiates, can cause increased depression among other symptoms, trapping the individual in a downward spiral of disinterest, pain and even suicidal thoughts. Individuals who are depressed may drink or use substances to uplift their spirits in a desperate attempt to escape feelings of guilt, inadequacy and despair.

Depression – Signs and Symptoms

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, and it is also very treatable with high recovery rates. Many factors may play a role in depression, including traumatic life events, genetics, or physical differences in the brain. Depression can accompany other illnesses, making conditions worse.

Common symptoms of depression can include the following:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or empty feeling
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Sleeping too much or too little and at all times of the day
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness

Substance Abuse – Signs and Symptoms

Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that forces an individual to seek drugs, compulsively with no regard for the harmful side effects or consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drug use alters the brain function leading to harmful and often self-destructive behaviors.

Common symptoms of substance abuse can include the following:

  • Feeling that the drug must be taken in order to function regularly
  • Intense urges for the drug
  • Driving or doing other risky activities while under the influence of the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Depression can wear different faces, depending on the individual suffering from the disorder. Although we have listed common symptoms, it is important to understand that every individual can experience depression differently. Substance abuse symptoms can imitate the symptoms of depression, making it difficult to the untrained eye to diagnose depression when the individual is actively using substances.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

We recommend comprehensive treatment to combat the symptoms of dual diagnosis and open a path to recovery. Some individuals with a dual diagnosis cope well with one-on-one counseling, professional medical support and related support groups. At times, intensive outpatient or inpatient treatment is called for in order to assist in detoxing from certain substances like alcohol, cocaine or opioids, to name a few, and to help teach healthy coping strategies for depression. Family involvement and follow-up support is suggested to prevent the risk of relapse.

Attempts to stop taking drugs cold turkey may lead individuals to suffer from intense cravings that make the individual feel physically sick. Professional treatment at a mental health center like Advantage Mental Health Center can help ease these withdrawal pains, and help you begin your journey back to feeling like yourself. If you or someone you know suffers from symptoms of depression and substance abuse, get help today. Call (727) 600-8093 or click here to schedule an appointment.