Depression and addiction can be a dangerous combination. Both are heavy diseases on their own. Together, a dual diagnosis can lead to even more damaging effects.
Here's a breakdown of how the two diseases relate to one another and how each can be treated.
A Vicious Cycle
The two diseases are more intertwined than most people realize. Depression can trigger the start of an addiction, and vice versa. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one-third of people suffering from major depression also abuse alcohol. The case is even dimmer in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that shows 53 percent of people who abuse drugs also have at least one mental illness diagnosis.
The cycle is even more dangerous because those with an addiction are using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate depression symptoms like sadness, guilt or low self-worth. When the effects of the alcohol or drugs wear off, the person is just inclined to use more in order to manage their depression.
People with depression also tend to withdraw from social interactions, which leaves them with more time alone. Their state of mind and subsequent lack of social support makes them vulnerable to abusing drugs and/or alcohol.
Besides one condition egging on the other, depression and addiction also share similarities with each other. Both are real diseases caused by a brain disorder and are treatable, but not totally curable. Both are not selective and can affect people of all ages, levels of education, socioeconomic status and cultures.
Fascinatingly enough, a common gene—a variant of the gene CHRM2—has been identified to impact both depression and addiction. A variation of the gene can possibly increase the risk of either or both conditions.
People Who’ve Struggled
Many public figures fight lifelong battles with addiction and depression. Here are just a few:
- Robin Williams, who committed suicide
- Christopher Reeve
- Richard Pryor, who attempted suicide
- Jon Hamm
- Owen Wilson
- Carrie Fisher, who battled bipolar disorder and prescription drug addiction
- Billy Joel, who fights alcohol addiction
- Lena Dunham, who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Catherine Zeta-Jones, who suffers from bipolar disorder
The lessons learned from these public figures are the same as those from afflicted family members, neighbors, colleagues, and friends. For everyone, early intervention is the key to effective treatment, hopeful recovery, and control.
Treating Depression and Addiction
Before going straight into treatment, it is important for addicts struggling with depression to first go through a detox. Only after the drugs or alcohol is removed from the system can the addict then move into a dual diagnosis treatment plan.
Treating depression and addiction simultaneously produces healthy results by addressing the extreme emotions and substance abuse that are often linked together.
Examples of some treatment techniques are as follows:
- Education about diseases
- Counseling and therapy—including individual, group, and family therapy or a combination of each
- Support groups
- Antidepressant medication
All of these undertakings are best accomplished in an accredited and licensed rehabilitation facility. However, it doesn’t stop there as aftercare is a critical component of success for both depression and addiction treatment.
Out of all the options, anti-depressant drugs may be the most controversial. Some experts believe that anti-depressant medications adversely challenge an addict’s sobriety, while others say the medications are necessary in order to provide the addict with mental stability and regular brain chemistry.
Regardless of the path to recovery, diagnosing, treating and supporting a person with depression and addiction as early as possible is the best way to get a positive clinical response and a productive, happy life for the future.