When someone says they feel like nothing matters or they’re sad, hopeless or weary, you might think they are suffering from depression. But those who are addicted may express the same kind of feelings. Depression and addiction are often seen together so much so that people can get a dual diagnosis. Like that old “chicken and egg” situation, sometimes it’s difficult to know which came first and caused the other.
Why depression and addiction often co-occur
It is not uncommon — and even research shows — that people who struggle with mental health disorders are more likely to turn to substances like alcohol and drugs and become addicted. While addiction can cause mental illness, it’s important to understand that mental illness doesn’t cause addiction. What can happen, however, is that an undiagnosed mental illness or one that is known but not treated can trigger alcohol and drug use.
Depression doesn’t always follow a predictable path, and that sometimes makes it difficult to diagnose. Those suffering from depression may look for an escape. Drugs and alcohol often provide that kind of comfort.
In an effort to self-medicate, people suffering from depression symptoms such as sadness, sleep disorders, or general discontent may find substances help cover up the despair. What really happens is they get into a horribly vicious cycle of depression and substance abuse. The bad feelings get tamped down only to reveal more bad feelings and continued use later. Ultimately, the drug or alcohol use only compounds the problem.
Did depression or addiction come first?
When someone has been suffering from depression and addiction for a while, it may seem easier said than done to try and find the root of the problem. During treatment, a good therapist will act like a detective. He or she will use information from family, friends, and employers as well as a psychosocial evaluation and even court and police records (if they exist) to try and determine whether the depression or addiction occurred first.
Why is that important? Therapists know depression and addiction often co-occur. If they find out depression was present before the addiction or depression began after substance abuse, there is a better likelihood of crafting treatments that help with recovery.
Treating just one disorder will not make the other to improve or go away automatically. This is why using an integrated approach is necessary. Treating co-occurring disorders at the same time is important, but the treatment is not the same.
In cases where the person suffered depression before he or she began to use drugs or alcohol, the treatment can include medication intervention. Antidepressant medication can help balance chemical levels in the brain. Treatment may be required for a more extended period in comparison with someone who first dealt with addiction before the depression.
Someone who first abused substances doesn’t necessarily have a chemical brain imbalance that is associated with depression. The depression was instead caused by the cycle of addiction. That person would be referred to a different treatment track for someone who is chemically dependent and the issues associated with that problem.