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Substance abuse seldom exists in isolation, meaning that for a majority of individuals, a mental health diagnosis goes hand-in-hand. After all, substance abuse can often begin as a means of self-medicating, serving to mask an underlying issue or concern. Substance abuse in conjunction with depression serves a unique challenge based upon the symptoms that follow suite. Depression comes in waves, with a depressive episode often leading to feelings of lethargy, low self-esteem and a lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities. Depression effects how an individual thinks, feels and behaves, which is not only disruptive to everyday life, such as following through on daily household tasks and performing optimally in the workforce, but poses an additional challenge in taking the healthy risks necessary in early recovery. Part of what can make early recovery seem intimidating or overwhelming is the idea of engaging with strangers, on top of being asked to share intimate information with these individuals. Group and individual therapy, as well as 12-step fellowship engagement, require a level of vulnerability in order to begin processing through negative emotions and begin building healthy sober supports.

Individuals with Depression

For the individual struggling with depression, waking up and engaging in self-care can be a daunting task. Tackling the commitments in recovery in addition to the daily difficulties that result from depression can greatly increase the risk of becoming overwhelmed, triggered and experiencing cravings. After all, using had previously served to numb those emotions that had proved to be difficult to manage. Thus, addressing substance abuse without simultaneously addressing mental health concerns could be setting up the individual in early recovery for failure. A great portion of substance abuse treatment centers, both inpatient and outpatient, have the ability to address mental health concerns as well as drug and alcohol abuse, beginning with a psychiatric evaluation to determine the presenting symptoms and the extent of those symptoms so that an accurate diagnosis can be reached. While not every individually suffering with depression will need or desire medication management, it is essential that healthy coping mechanisms be identified and implemented to reduce depressions interference with the tasks required of the individual in early recovery.

The current leading treatment for depression at this time includes medication management, talk therapy, or more likely, a combination of the two. However, alternative means of addressing depression are growing in popularity. Research suggests that mild symptoms of depression can often be addressed through healthy diet and exercise, as this provides the body with the necessary vitamins and minerals to function optimally, while further releasing endorphins to boost ones mood naturally. While each person must determine for themselves the best method for treatment, it is suggested that one consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action based upon the presenting symptoms.

Substance Abuse can Negatively Impact Depression

While most people will encounter highs and lows throughout their lifetime, clinical depression can lasts for weeks at a time. It is estimated that as many as one-third of individuals suffering from major depressive disorder also present with a substance abuse disorder of some kind. Unfortunately, substance abuse can actually serve to increase depressive symptoms, as it further depletes the brain of those essential neurochemicals needed to maintain balance. Part of seeking relief is recognizing that depression happens and is almost always outside the control of the individual. Depression can lead to thoughts of guilt and shame, which are already at an all time high in the early recovery process. Thus, seeking help early is essential and begins by recognizing that everyone is worthy of an opportunity to excel in this world.  Depression has a way of “tricking us” into believing that this is as good as it gets. Treatment takes the approach of challenging this internal thought by striving for more.