When two conditions occur side-by-side in the same person, it’s called a dual diagnosis, or comorbidity. The challenge to a dual diagnosis is that it’s hard to find out which condition came first, and how they interact with each other. The biggest danger is that only one condition is treated, which can be a major cause of failed treatment, and relapse. This month on our blog, we’re taking a closer look at specific mental disorders and how they interact with substance abuse.

Depression is the most common major mental disorder in America. The CDC estimates that up to 10% of Americans suffer from depression. It’s also the most common disorder to be linked with addiction. In fact, 1 in 3 individuals who struggle with alcohol or drug abuse also have depression.

Depression Defined

The biggest misunderstanding with depression is that it’s just a case of the blues: someone is in a funk and just needs to shake it off. Depression is more than that; it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain that can change a person and interferes with their ability to lead a normal life.

Depression is characterized by feelings of despondency, hopelessness, and perpetual tiredness. Often, people feel so hopeless that it’s hard to get them to seek treatment. Depression creates such a change that patients find themselves unable to enjoy things they did before, they act differently in every aspect of their life, and say that they “don’t feel like themselves.” Depression is often misdiagnosed in men because it manifests a little differently, as anger, hostility, and irritability.

Grief, or bereavement, aren’t the same as depression, although they often look similar. Grief turns into clinical depression only if or when symptoms last for more than two months.

The Relationship Between Depression and Addiction

The reason for the high co occurrence of depression and addiction is self-medication. When depressed, patients turn to harmful or addictive behaviors in order to feel better, to distract themselves, or to numb feelings of despair and sadness.

Of course, the high soon fades. Your mood goes back to what it was before, and you’re still struggling with depression. In fact, usually the condition will get even worse. Your body becomes dependent on the substance. To make matters worse, your life becomes more complicated and problematic as the addiction takes hold. Feelings of self-beratement and remorse worsen and exacerbate the depression.

Can Addiction Cause Depression?

We all know that drug use changes our brain chemistry. For example, a dopamine-boosting substances cause your brain to stop producing as much dopamine naturally. Your natural brain chemistry stops answering the need for a mood boost and waits for the drug to answer the need instead. This makes you more prone to depression, and more dependent on the drug. In many cases, depression is caused by addictive behaviors.

Treating Depression and Addiction Together

Depression can be scary to deal with when paired with addiction treatment. Once a patient goes off of drugs or alcohol that they’ve become dependent on, depression can become worse, even leading to suicidal tendencies. Patients must be closely monitored and the depression must be managed. Otherwise, even if a patient goes back to his or her life completely clean of the substance, the depression inevitably recurs and without a new method to treat the depression, patients fall back into the patterns that led to addiction in the first place.

It’s important to talk with a professional about both conditions in order to find a long-term solution.