Depression and addiction often go hand in hand. Mental disorders can often be a driving factor in our desire to blot out our consciousness. This is why “dual-diagnosis” is such a common trait among addicts and alcoholics. But there is hope, both for the treatment of depression and recovery from addiction despite depression.
The Link Between Addiction & Depression
Understanding the link between mental illness and wanting to drown out the way you are currently feeling isn’t hard. When we are in the throes os depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, we will jump on any opportunity to get out of our own heads. Drugs and alcohol are a quick and easy way to do just that.
I’ve suffered from anxiety for a long time, which alcohol effectively drowned out. Getting drunk would help me temporarily forget about my crippling social anxiety. Given the fact that I’m a recovering alcoholic, it’s safe to say that wasn’t an effective solution. Apparently, working with a therapist, taking Zoloft, and working through the steps was actually an effective, healthy way to ease those symptoms. Who would’ve thought?
What is Depression?
Everyone feels sad sometimes, that’s part of being human, but depression goes beyond simply feeling sad sometimes. The disease of depression involves a consistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. On top of that, other symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in most or all normal activities or activities you once enjoyed
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite changes
- Feeling like you are worthless, feeling like a failure
- Trouble concentrating
- Constant thoughts of death/suicide
Not all depression looks the same, forms of depression can include:
- Persistent Depressive Disorder – This is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. This disorder can involve periods of less severe depressive symptoms and episodes of major symptoms.
- Postpartum depression – Severe depression affecting some women during pregnancy and/or after delivery. This condition involves very severe symptoms and can impact a mother’s ability to care for herself and/or her children.
- Psychotic Depression – When a person has depression and a form of psychosis (hallucinations, delusions, etc.)
- Seasonal Affective Disorder – Depression that is onset during the winter months when there is less sunlight.
- Bipolar Disorder – A separate disorder from depression that is characterized by extreme, euphoric highs (mania) and extreme depressive lows.
What causes depression in early sobriety?
To put it bluntly, in early sobriety we suddenly have to feel our feelings. For any alcoholic/addict, this can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. There’s science behind this too, not just the conjecture of a random alcoholic. Active addiction messes with our brains, namely disrupting the production of dopamine and affecting neurotransmitters associated with pleasure.
In simple terms, the way our brains perceive happiness and pleasure is disrupted when we drink or use. When we sober up, we disrupt our biggest source of dopamine, and our brains initially struggle to compensate for that loss. If you are someone who has clinical depression, those effects are intensified.
Healthy Ways to Manage Depression in Recovery
Luckily, you’re not alone in terms of suffering from mental disorders in recovery. In fact, you’re pretty much the opposite of alone. There are tons of ways you can handle depression in early recovery without turning back to the bottle (or pipe, or needle). Some of the ways include:
As I’ve said in previous blog posts, there’s a reason the phrase “meeting makers make it” exists. Meetings give you a great built-in support network of people who know what it’s like to live with the brain of an addict/alcoholic. Humans are social animals, having the comradery AA meetings provide can help battle the feelings of loneliness and isolation that are central to depression. On top of going to meetings, being of service to a group, be it making coffee, becoming a secretary or any other service position, gives you an opportunity to gain self-esteem through esteem-able acts.
By going to meetings, you will also be able to get a sponsor, another piece of insurance to make sure you don’t go back out and use, thus causing setbacks with your sobriety and worsening your mental health. Working through the steps can give you knowledge of your addiction, a chance for self-reflection, and an opportunity to clear the wreckage of the past.
This is an extremely important piece. Professional help can include an addiction counselor, a therapist, a psychiatrist, or some combination of the three. Working with a professional can prove to be a critical resource. The same way you would see a doctor if you had a disease in your lungs, stomach or any other organ, you should see a doctor if you have a disease (or two diseases, given the topic of this blog post) affecting your brain.
Other Support Groups
Going beyond AA/NA/other recovery-centered programs there are support groups centered around mental health. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others can provide this. Local resources include:
- NAMI Oregon – Support & Education Groups – Mental health peer-support groups throughout the state of Oregon
- NAMI Clackamas County Support Groups
- NAMI Washington County Support Groups
- NAMI Multnomah County Support Groups
- Psychology Today – Adult Support Groups in Portland, OR – List of adult support groups for various mental health conditions, including depression.
- Portland Therapy Center – Mental Health Groups – List of several groups in the Portland Metro Area, note that most of these are not free, but this is still a great resource if you are looking for mental health group therapy.
We Can Help
Oregon Trail Recovery can give you a good foothold in both recovery and mental health treatment. With our intervention, detox, IOP, and sober living programs, run by licensed professionals, we can give you a solid base to begin your recovery journey. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.