The Dark Corridors of the Human Mind: How depression correlates to substance abuse


In recovery, people often receive what is known as a “dual diagnosis”. In substance abuse recovery, a dual diagnosis is defined as the congruent diagnosis of both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem. Today, it is widely known and commonly accepted that mental health disorders contribute, or even lie at the root of, many addictions. But how do the two interact?

Depression on Top of Depression

We all feel sad now and then. How do we know if it’s just a normal emotional shift, or actual depression? One key way doctors tell is the duration and impact of the prospective depression. If it lasts for weeks, and prevents you from functioning normally, it is more likely to be diagnosed as depression.

True depression is not incredibly rare. More than six percent of the population will deal with a major depressive episode this year. Almost half of those will have an anxiety disorder also. But a third of this group has another problem – alcoholism. And alcohol is a depressant which can exacerbate depressive episodes.

This can be confusing for for therapists providing Alcohol Abuse Counseling, to say nothing of the sufferer themselves. Which came first? Is the depression difficult to manage and quick to progress because of the effects of alcohol? Or did the depression exist in a major state first, leading the sufferer to self-medicate with alcohol, and inadvertently locking them into the disorder?

This is precisely why substance abuse treatment needs to be administered with mental health in mind. Frequently, one cannot be resolved without the other being appropriately addressed.

Facing the Problem

A dual diagnosis involving comorbid disorders like depression and substance abuse can be tricky to treat. As we know, getting help begins with admitting you have a problem. But what happens when an addict who is ready to admit their problem is diagnosed with a mental health disorder as well?

In a lot of cases, it can be tough to accept, or simply be too much to acknowledge at once. Sufferer and care provider alike can opt to put emphasis on one factor – usually the substance abuse – and in the process, neglect to fully address the mental disorder. This lack of complete treatment leads to higher instances of relapse.

So how should it be treated? Generally speaking, it is recommended that the sufferer begin a course of medication and therapy. Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, can be extremely helpful in overcoming both issues at the same time. Naturally, it all begins with an appropriate diagnosis. Substance abusers who describe frequently feeling lethargic, having feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, constantly feel numb, experience chronic pain, or experience sleep disorders should be examined for mental health disorders as part of their substance abuse treatment.

What we have learned here today barely begins to broach a very serious topic. There are many actions healthcare providers can take to formulate a program appropriate for each unique individual. But in the end, the bottom line is that treating comorbid disorders is a more reliable way to achieve lasting sobriety.


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