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Why the Link between Depression and Substance Abuse Is More Complicated Than It Appears

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So, which came first, depression or substance abuse? The question is akin to the chicken/egg conundrum that has befuddled generations, yet the relationship between substance abuse and depression is much more complex than meets the eye. Of course, those who live with co-occurring disorders understand this complexity all too well.

“Co-occurring disorders,” also called dual diagnosis, is the technical term for the condition involving both substance abuse and some type of mental health disorder, such as depression. The relationship between the two is bi-directional — that is, those who use mind-altering substances are prone to depression, and vice versa. Unfortunately, substance abuse and depression can create a vicious cycle, and breaking free can be a struggle for many.

Co-occurring disorders are more prevalent than many people realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 9.2 million Americans dealt with both substance abuse and a mental health disorder in 2018. Generally speaking, dual diagnosis treatment is most effective when an integrated approach is taken. During an integrated intervention, an individual’s substance abuse and mental health disorders are treated in tandem, rather than looked at as separate entities.

Those with co-occurring substance abuse and some type of depressive disorder may also benefit from taking a hands-on approach to their treatment. You may want to start by making small lifestyle changes, such as decluttering or purging old possessions that are linked to your using days, to help solidify your commitment to recovery. Further, don’t overlook the myriad benefits of creating your own personal oasis for healing and recovery, even if it’s just your bedroom.

Taking an Integrated Approach to Treatment

As many people who have supported loved ones living with depression understand firsthand, a little encouragement goes a long way. And providing encouragement and support is an ideal first step in the treatment process for co-occurring depression and substance abuse. It’s also important for your treatment providers to learn how you got to this point, and whether one of your co-disorders has a stronger hold on you than the other.

Where mental health disorders are concerned, major depression is alarmingly common. In fact, research indicates that depression is the most prevalent brain disorder in the U.S., as well as the leading cause of disability for individuals ages 15 to 44. And mixing depression with alcohol or other drugs is a recipe for disaster.

For many with co-occurring disorders, the problem often begins with doctor-prescribed drugs and/or self-medication using alcohol. Mind-altering substances may then exacerbate common symptoms of depression, including sadness, fatigue, and lethargy.

When writing prescriptions, health professionals should be vigilant, and look for signs that indicate a possible substance use disorder in their patients. It may also be prudent for providers to avoid prescribing opioids to patients with depressive disorders, even in an effort to eradicate chronic pain. The risks, from substance abuse to a possible overdose, are far too severe to be taking chances.

The Vital Importance of Self-Care

Medications are just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to treating co-occurring disorders, however. You can easily take charge of your life and improve your mental state without turning to alcohol or drugs by combining treatment with self-care. Of course, losing interest in your hobbies and favorite activities is a major symptom of both depression and substance abuse, and it may serve as a roadblock to independence.

But you can get through it, and your efforts may be more effective if you have a sanctuary or “happy place” where you can escape to when life gets too overwhelming. Your personal oasis can be anything from a quiet corner of your home to a sprawling backyard treehouse, complete with electricity. No matter the location, it’s imperative that your space is relatively clutter-free and filled with positivity, containing nothing that’s associated with past actions or substance abuse.

You may find that just having the knowledge that your sanctuary space exists does a world of good for the healing process. Your personal oasis, when combined with integrated treatment, could even become the catalyst that helps bring you back to life.

Make no mistake, you can indeed heal from co-occurring substance use and depression. And it’s okay to take small steps to get there. In fact, for many of us, “slow and steady wins the race.”

Why Small Actions are a Powerful Part of the Healing Process

The recovery process is rife with supportive, and sometimes poignant, adages and phrases, such as “it works if you work it” and “one day at a time.” One of the most popular sayings among 12-steps involves the process of change: “People, places, and things.” Put simply, you must shed your addict skin and its associated habits in order to truly heal from addiction.

Some of us find refuge in our personal oasis, while others find the supportive nature of recovery housing to be the perfect environment for healing from co-occurring depression and substance abuse. But if addictive thoughts still linger in your mind even in your sanctuary, try to completely rid yourself of possessions that remind you of old habits and unhealthy connections.

The practice of feng shui may serve as an inspirational jumping-off point. The ancient Chinese practice teaches you how to channel the flow of energy (called “qi”) by strategically placing objects at your home or office. Objects with negative associations have no place in the process, and you’re encouraged to discard the objects that may be blocking your life force.

Even if feng shui sounds a bit hokey to you, why not give it a try? For starters, it’s a much better use of your time than using alcohol or drugs. What’s more, the smallest actions may ultimately yield the strongest results as we work to break free from the shackles of co-occurring depression and substance abuse.

Final Thoughts

Depression can be elusive, and many of us have developed the ability to hide our condition behind fake smiles, just as we masked it with alcohol and/or drugs. For those living with co-occurring depression and substance abuse, treatment is vital if we ever hope to enjoy life again. In many cases, a multifaceted approach, merging integrated treatment with self-care and small yet powerful actions, is the best defense against the vicious and continuous cycle of co-occurring disorders.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer that lives in the Northwest region of the United States. She has a particular interest in covering topics related to good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. When not writing, her free time is spent reading and researching to learn more about her cultural and environmental surroundings.

Image Source: Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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