Substance use disorders and depression often go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, when a person overcomes an addiction and embraces sobriety, depression can remain. Here’s a closer look at the phenomenon, along with tips for how to manage depression during recovery.
Substance Use Disorders and Depression
Substance abuse and depression are common co-occurring conditions. In some cases, depression — and an individual’s efforts to self-medicate it — leads to substance use and addiction. In other cases, the detrimental changes caused by drug addiction to the brain chemistry and neural pathways prevent the brain’s mood center from producing the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. This, in turn, can lead to depression while perpetuating the cycle of addiction as the addict attempts to seek out these feelings through substance use.
The relationship between substance abuse and depression deepens when you factor in the possible devastation of an addict’s personal and professional life. In addition to losses like marriages, jobs, and friends, addicts also suffer from shame and guilt for the damage they may have caused while abusing substances. These feelings can bubble up to the surface when an addict stops drinking or using drugs. This is a vicious cycle in which feeling bad about these things, and/or about the depression itself, can lead to relapse.
Overcoming Depression During Recovery
The good news is, there are things people in recovery can do to stabilize their depression and move forward with their lives.
For starters, medication can be an invaluable tool in fighting both substance use and depression. From anti-craving medications to antidepressants, medication — under the observation of a doctor — can support recovery.
Additionally, several behavioral changes can help those suffering from depression in recovery, including building a solid support network comprising people who understand addiction, recovery, and depressive disorders. While finding these people in their day-to-day lives can be a challenge especially if family and friends are not living sober lifestyles, support groups are a great place to meet new, sober friends.
On a similar note avoiding triggers, including people and places that lead to cravings and urges, is important. If you have to participate in an event or activity that may trigger cravings, consider bringing someone from your support network with you, or set limits before you attend — for example, deciding in advance to stay for only 30 minutes.
Lastly, don’t forget that while addiction is about lack of control, sobriety is about maintaining control. This applies to depression too. Write Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC, SAP, ADS and C.R. Zwolinski for Psych Central, “You are responsible for your own sober recovery as well as taking care of your own depression. You can’t expect the world to change around you. Others will not stop drinking — nor are they required to. They will not stop asking you to do things that may not be good for you. So ask your therapist to help you work on refusal skills — that is, the ability to say ‘no.’”
On a related note, while we often think of addiction treatment in terms of the physical process of withdrawal, cognitive behavioral therapy is also a critical part of the equation as it helps people learn how to address their own thoughts, feelings, and actions, as well as to better understand how these emotions impact recovery. Leading St Louis drug rehab Harris House has been providing targeted treatment for people struggling with substance abuse, as well as for those with co-occurring conditions such as depression, for more than 50 years. If our or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder, call us to learn about admissions today.