Substance Abuse and Depression

Strong Link between Substance Abuse and Depression

Many substance abusers have a history of depression. This may have turned to alcohol and drugs as a means to deal with this mental health problem, or they may have developed the condition as a result of their substance abuse. More than one in five individuals who has been diagnosed with depression will also have a recent history of abusing alcohol or drugs. There is undoubtedly a strong link between these two conditions.

Substance Abuse Defined

Substance abuse usually refers to the harmful use of any mind altering substance. It not only refers to illicit drugs like crack cocaine and heroin, but also alcohol and the use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Generally speaking the use of illicit drugs, and prescription drugs for recreational use, will be always categorized as substance abuse even if the individual only takes them occasionally. The line between social use and harmful use of alcohol can be harder to distinguish. The use of performance enhancing drugs can be considered substance abuse even though the individual will not be taking them to achieve any type of high.

Depression Defined

Almost every individual will have periods in their life when they feel low. It is only when such feelings last longer than usual that it becomes recognized as depression. People will experience depression in different ways, but it usually includes the following components:

* Feelings tend to be negative. The individual may stop enjoying things they previously liked. They can feel a lack of motivation, and feel overcome with sadness a lot of the time.
* Negative thinking means that people feel pessimistic about the future and suffer from low self-esteem. They might have problems concentrating or even remembering things.
* Behavior changes occur due to negative feelings and negative thoughts. The individual no longer has the energy to do things. They can start to cut themselves off from the world. They may turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism but this only makes things worse.
* Health often deteriorates because of the reduction in activity and insomnia. Most people who are depressed will also eat poorly and this can cause further problems to health. People who suffer from depression can have a weaker immune system and this means they are more prone to illness.

Types of Depression

The symptoms of depression can vary greatly. It is possible to indentify different types of this condition including:

* Minor depression can last few a few weeks, but the symptoms are mild so that they don’t interfere with the life of the individual too much.
* Dysthymic disorder is where the symptoms of depression are severe and last more than 2 weeks.
* Bipolar disorder is where there are huge mood swings. The individual may experience periods of mania followed by severe depression.
* Postpartum depression is usually due to the hormonal changes that a women experiences after birth.
* Seasonal affective disorder is when people become depressed during the winter months
* Psychotic depression is where the individual becomes psychotic because of the severity of their depressive symptoms

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression can include:

* Reduced energy levels
* Inability to concentrate
* Memory problems
* Suicidal thoughts
* Comfort eating
* Lack of appetite
* Feeling empty inside
* Chronic pains, and other symptoms, that never go away but don’t seem to have a cause
* Loss of interest in things that once brought enjoyment
* Guilt
* Low self esteem
* Sleeping problems
* Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
* Irritability
* Substance abuse
* Increased pessimism about life

Dual Diagnosis

Many people who become addicted to alcohol or drugs will have a dual diagnosis. This means that they not only have an addiction but also another mental health problem such as depression. This dual diagnosis can occur in two ways. The individual may have developed the condition as a result of substance abuse, or the substance abuse may be a response to the other mental health problem. The percentage of people with mental health problems who abuse alcohol or drugs may be as high as 47%, although some studies show that it may be significantly less than this.

Depression as a Cause of Substance Abuse

Those who suffer from depression can be attracted to substance abuse as means to escape their discomfort. This type of self medication can provide temporary relief, but in the long term it can make matters a lot worse. Those who turn to alcohol or sedatives will be increasing their symptoms because alcohol is a depressant. The dangers of using substance abuse to deal with depression include:

* Addiction
* Damage to health
* Increased likelihood of suicide
* In the long-term it increases the severity of symptoms
* Interferes with treatments for depression
* Leads to family and work problems
* The risk of overdose
* Leads to financial difficulties
* Encourages criminality

Substance Abuse as a Cause of Depression

There is little doubt that substance abuse can lead to depression. The type of drugs that this is more likely to happen with includes:

* Alcohol
* Benzodiazepines
* Barbiturates
* Opioid drugs such as heroin and morphine
* Stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine
* Inhalants

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

It can be harder for the individual with a dual diagnosis to make it through treatment for recovery. This is because it can be difficult to treat the addiction unless the other mental health issue is being dealt with. It is also almost impossible to treat a mental health problem like depression unless the individual is being treated for their substance abuse problem. The best solution is that both conditions are treated together.

It can be difficult to diagnose a dual diagnosis, because substance abuse can mask many of the symptoms. It is easy to miss depression because the symptoms can be attributed to the effects of addiction. This means that many of those with a dual diagnosis slip through the net and don’t receive the right type of treatment.

Depression in Recovery

Occasionally people who are in recovery from addiction can develop symptoms of depression. It is important to get proper medical advice when this happens. People can blame themselves for the symptoms, and view it as a sign that they are doing something wrong. In a lot of cases a medical intervention will be necessary. Those individuals who fail to get this help increase their risk of relapse or at the very least will take much of the enjoyment out of recovery.

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