Substance Abuse and Depression

We have known for a long time that there is sometimes a very close relationship between drug and alcohol problem and mental illness, especially depression.  This relationship can make it difficult to determine which issue is the cause of the problems and which one may be the result.

It’s the same as the “chicken and egg” question.  Which one came first?

Recovery professionals will tell you that addiction can cause mental illness, but mental illness does not cause addiction.  However, if you have a mental illness that is not properly diagnosed and treated, it can definitely lead to the USE of alcohol and drugs.

When you suffer from depression and similar disorders, you will likely feel things like isolation, sadness, hopelessness and even numbness, among other symptoms.  If you are either not seeing a doctor to address these emotions, or the treatment prescribed by your doctor is not working effectively (or soon enough), it is very tempting to begin to self-medicate.

This becomes more difficult because in the short term, this type of self-medication with drugs and alcohol seems to alleviate the negative feelings.  The problem is that after the substance leaves your body, you end up even more depressed than you were at the beginning.

However, many people feel so depressed that they are willing to self-medicate because it will make them feel better “right now”.  That means they will likely to continue to use alcohol and drugs so they don’t have to “come down” and feel the depression again.

Another problem is that using alcohol or drugs in conjunction with medication for depression can dramatically alter the results of the medication.  Depending on the specific kind of medication and the type of substance you are using, the medication could be made more potent or less effective.

This can be dangerous, but it can also make it much more difficult to find the correct dosage of medication to treat the depression.

Another problem faced by those who suffer from both depression and substance abuse issues is that it may make you want to avoid any kind of medication.  Since taking pills or alcohol got you in trouble in the first place, it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you actually need medication to help you recover (from mental illness).

In fact, avoiding this kind of medication is actually frequently recommended by friends, family members and sponsors because of the problem they think it creates for dependency and/or addiction.

While your friends, family or sponsor are probably qualified to give advice about addiction, they likely don’t have any experience dealing with a dual diagnosis that includes both addiction and mental illness.  If you have both of these issues, it is critical that you speak with a doctor and/or therapist who is experienced dealing with type of a dual diagnosis situation.

Seeing an experienced therapist is critical to help you answer the chicken and egg question.  They can help you identify the cause of your depression to determine if it was present before you started using substances to self-medicate.

Understanding the true cause of your depression will determine if you need treatment for your depression or if it will likely be something you can control if you can get your substance abuse problem under control.

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