Depressed girl looking out of a window

“It is virtually impossible to recover from depression while continuing to use mood-altering substances including alcohol. Therefore, get help to come off the drug(s) and monitor your mood closely – if depression doesn’t resolve, seek help for possible depression treatment.”


– Dr. Mel Pohl, Chief Medical Officer at Las Vegas Recovery Center

Depression and addiction are a common—yet dangerous—combination, in part because the two brain diseases feed off of one another, making it difficult for the sufferer to muster the motivation to seek help. A depressed person who regularly numbs his sadness with alcohol or other drugs won’t have the mental wherewithal to seek treatment. Similarly, an alcoholic who suffers from depression will likely lack the necessary ambition to make a therapy appointment. And thus, the cycle continues.

While it’s possible for depression to go away on its own, addiction is a chronic disease that requires life-long management and attention. If left untreated, addiction is certain to worsen, which will only heighten the symptoms of depression and other co-occurring mental illnesses. It’s important that if you or a loved one is experiencing indications of either disorder that you seek help immediately, preferably from a therapist or treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis.

The following are six things everyone should understand about the relationship between depression and addiction. When you arm yourselves with the facts, you increase the odds of one day saving a life—maybe even your own.

1. Depression and addiction commonly occur together.

Depression and addiction are the most commonly paired dual diagnoses. In fact, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, one in three adults who abuse drugs or alcohol also experience depression.

2. The suicide risk is high for someone who has depression and addiction.

Although depression and addiction are difficult enough to overcome by themselves, when combined, they can have truly deadly consequences. Those with depression, for instance, have a 10 percent chance of committing suicide at some point during their lifetime. Those with a substance use disorder also have a 10 percent chance of committing suicide at some point during their lifetime. Those diagnosed with both depression and a substance use disorder, however, have a 25 percent chance—the risk more than doubles.

Know the signs of suicide:

If you or a loved one suffer from mild to severe depression, it’s important to recognize the signs someone may be at risk of suicide. The warning signs include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Self-isolation
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Moodiness
  • Sudden calmness (could indicate a decision has been made to commit suicide)

Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for a full list of risk factors and warning signs.

3. Depression is the biggest cause of addiction relapse.

Depression is known to trigger relapse. In fact, research has found that depression is the biggest predictor of whether someone in recovery from addiction will relapse or not. Conversely, addiction can derail depression treatment as well, because substance use can interfere with antidepressants, making them ineffective.

4. Ongoing, long-term treatment is necessary for both depression and addiction.

Many assume that therapy or medications are no longer needed once the symptoms of depression have dissipated. However, the data suggests that depression reoccurrence is common. Research has found that only one in three people remain in remission from depression. Thus, it’s important that those with a history of depression have a long-term treatment plan in place that includes strategies for relapse prevention.

The same can be said of addiction, which is thought to be a brain disease that cannot be cured, but rather only “managed”—through continued abstinence and ongoing support from a 12-step, religious or therapeutic community.

5. Quitting drinking or using can actually make depression worse—at first.

One of the biggest challenges those with a depression and substance use disorders face is that initially, quitting alcohol or drugs can often make the symptoms of depression feel more severe. If a person has been abusing substances for several years or decades and then suddenly stops, the body will naturally go through a period of shock and will need to time readjust and heal. This can take as long as two years, during which time it’s common for people to feel emotional, moody, lethargic and depressed.

What’s more, if a person has spent years self-medicating with substances, it’s likely she hasn’t felt the full force of her emotions in a long time. Remove alcohol and other drugs and suddenly the depression that’s been buried resurfaces. This can feel jarring and overwhelming, and can leave the person vulnerable to relapse.

This is why it is particularly important that those with a dual diagnosis who are seeking treatment for their addiction simultaneously seek help for their depression and any other co-occurring disorders (such as anxiety, Bipolar, or schizophrenia). This can be done through therapy with a dual diagnosis specialist or rehab in an integrated treatment program.

6. More than half the people who enter a treatment facility have depression or other mental health disorders.

Many who need help for their substance use disorder or depression do not ask for it because of the stigma that surrounds mental health and addiction. They worry that their family, friends, and colleagues will judge them as “weak” or “crazy.” The truth is that mental illness on a whole is quite common—approximately 50 percent of the population will experience mental illness in one form or another during their lifetime. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of those who enter rehab are suffering from one or more additional emotional disorders.

If you or a loved one is hesitant to seek treatment because of worries you’re too “broken” to be helped, don’t be. It’s common for addiction to be accompanied by a host of other emotional issues—issues that were inherited and/or the result of childhood events that were beyond your control. In other words, if you’re experiencing depression, addiction, or any other mental health disorder, it’s not your fault and you have no reason to feel ashamed.

Get Help Now: Call (888) 224-5513

Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC) is an abstinence-based alcohol and drug detox and addiction treatment center located in a quiet residential neighborhood in northwest Las Vegas, Nevada. With a dual diagnosis specialist and several experienced addiction counselors and psychologists on staff, we’re equipped to treat more than just a person’s substance use disorder, but any range of accompanying emotional disorders as well, including depression. Call today to speak to one of our admissions counselors, and to learn more about the wide range of inpatient and outpatient services we offer.

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