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Depression and Addiction

One of the most common mental health disorders we treat is depression. Depression and addiction are routinely seen together as it is a common side-effect of drug or alcohol use. Drug or alcohol use can also make pre-existing depression worse.

How does depression relate to addiction?

The rates for co-occurrence of depression and addiction are alarmingly high. An estimated 500.000 Australians are currently struggling with depression in combination with a substance abuse problem.

Depression and addiction most frequently correlate in one of two ways.

Firstly prolonged drug or alcohol use have brought on the symptoms of depression.

Excessive consumption of alcohol and/or drugs can trigger symptoms of depression such as lethargy, feelings of regret and feeling overwhelmed with simple tasks.

If a drug or alcohol dependency is established, the addict is at risk of experiencing increasingly worse depressive episodes during periods of withdrawal. In fact, attempting to quit using without professional help will often result in even worse feelings of depression.

Secondly, depression has served as a gateway to addiction through increased self-medication.

Using alcohol or drugs to mask feelings of depression is never a good idea.

Even if brief moments of reprieve occur in the early stages of self-medicating, in the long term substance abuse is guaranteed to worsen all symptoms of depression a person may experience.

If alcohol or drugs are used over a prolonged period of time, an individual’s tolerance for their substances of choice is likely to increase, meaning more and more drugs or alcohol are required to dull the pain.

Without seeking professional help a dependency can occur quicker than many will imagine.

What is depression?

Let’s face it: Nobody feels great all the time. Having bad days, experiencing mood swings and feeling plain sad from time to time might not be pleasant, but it is not what we refer to when we speak of depression.

Clinical depression is a serious and often debilitating condition that can influence all areas of a person’s life, sometimes making it impossible to achieve even the simplest everyday tasks.

Symptoms of depression include changes in behaviour, which may include:

  • Reluctance to leave the house
  • Unwillingness to socialise
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Struggling to keep up with the demands of work or school
  • Sleep problems (for example, excessive tiredness or insomnia)
  • Sudden loss or increase of appetite
  • Intrusive thoughts (for example, ‘I’m a failure’, ‘My life is worthless’, ‘There is no point in anything’)
  • Negative feelings (for example, hopelessness, guilt, irritation, indecisiveness)

The main difference between regular sadness and depression is the duration for which it persists.

Individuals suffering from clinical depression will experience many of the above mentioned symptoms for at least two weeks with little reprieve.

However, if left untreated, depressive episodes can last months and in extreme cases even years.

Treating depression and addiction together

If a patient receives a dual diagnosis of depression and addiction, it is vital for their recovery that the two issues be addressed side by side during the addiction treatment program.

Even if the substance abuse has preceded the depressive symptoms, this does not mean a patient should be excluded from counselling specific to mental health issues.

If we hope to achieve healing in all key areas (mental, physical, emotional, social and spiritual), a holistic approach will give a patient the best chance of avoiding relapse and make a long-term recovery.

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