Coping with depression and addiction

Irritability, sleep problems, and low energy can be signals of clinical depression. So, if you’re in addiction recovery…how are these two conditions related? How are they treated? We review ways you can cope with addiction and depression here.

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Addiction and clinical depression often go hand in hand before, during and after treatment, so it’s important to learn how to cope with depression in recovery. How can you identify and treat depression in addiction recovery? We review here. And we invite your questions or comments about depression in addiction recovery at the end.

Managing co-occurring mental disorders

First, it is important to state that addiction and depression have been linked as conditions that occur together or simultaneous. In fact, the term “co-occurring disorders” typically refers to an individual who is diagnosed with co-existing mental health and substance use disorders. And co-occurring disorders are so common that particular treatment modalities have been designed to treat them. In fact, co-occurring disorders treatment is a special “niche” in the treatment of addiction.

In some cases, addictive patterns may have actually been your way of coping with depression prior to treatment, drugs or alcohol may have given you temporary relief. Those who enter treatment with the conditions of both depression and addiction frequently have a repeating pattern of staying sober for a while and then relapsing because they feel miserable. The reason for the misery is that addiction often results in multiple negative consequences, such as relationship problems, declining job performance, loss of income, poor health and low self-esteem. These conditions often seem overwhelming and impossible to overcome. Many continue to want a quick solution to their depression while undergoing substance abuse treatment, thus the difficulty in maintaining abstinence.

The dangers of depression in recovery

Clinical depression, also known as “endogenous depression” is usually chronic in nature and may be found in your family members, indicating a genetic link. Self-harm or suicide are high risk factors with clinical depression. Depression can also weaken your body and suppress the immune system, leaving you susceptible to physical aches and pains, as well as chronic illness. Bringing alcohol or drugs into the picture increases the physical and emotional health risks significantly.

How to diagnose co-occurring cases

While most of us have been through a temporary case of the blues, there’s a difference between clinical depression and situational depression. Situational depression is usually the response to a single event, like the loss of a loved one or being fired from a job. It is not chronic nor genetic in nature. Clinical depression typically lasts for at least two weeks and often longer if treatment is not administered, interfering with your ability to work, maintain healthy relationships and function socially.

You may have co-occurring mental disorders (sometimes referred to as a “dual diagnosis”) if you have a substance abuse issue and you have experienced five or more of the following symptoms:

  • anxiety or feelings of hopelessness
  • apathy
  • chronic physical pain
  • irritability
  • low energy
  • poor concentration
  • significant decrease or increase in appetite or weight
  • sleeping too much or too little; loss of energy
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • tearfulness

Still, there is hope! Coping with depression in recovery is often personalize. So if these symptoms resonate with you, treatment options are available and can be catered to your individual needs. In fact, being diagnosed with clinical depression in addiction recovery prompts a treatment plan to treat both the depression and the addiction.

Treatment for depression in recovery

What makes co-occurring mental disorders difficult to treat is that each disorder compounds the symptoms of the other. Excessive drinking, for instance, is not going to improve clinical depression; in fact, it will likely make your depression even worse. If you are addicted to alcohol, you will likely stay depressed, and your depression will prompt you to drink more. It’s an endless circle that makes remaining clean and sober difficult.

So how are co-occurring disorders treated? Treatment for each disorder is different and will likely be merged into a single treatment plan. Treatment for co-occurring disorders sometimes includes medication such as the short term use of antidepressant medications, usually over the course of 3-6 months. Important factors toward recovery from the combination of addiction and depression include:

  1. Understanding the nature of your condition.
  2. Having confidence that recovery from a co-occurring mental disorders is possible.
  3. Motivating yourself to learn and adopt new coping strategies such as learning meditation techniques, cultivating hobbies, improving social skills and building a strong support network of family and friends
  4. Developing  new attitudes and new ways of thinking.

Questions about depression in addiction recovery

Do you still have questions about depression and addiction? Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: SAMHSA: Co-Occurring Disorders
SAMHSA: Definitions, Terms, and Classification Systems for Co-Occurring Disorders
About the author
Tracy Smith covers topics within the drug addiction niche being a recovering addict herself. She is thankful to have found treatment for her substance abuse that helped her become sober.


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  1. What do I do if I need help but can’t tell anyone I need the help? What if there can not be a record of me getting the help? How can I recover with no one in my life finding out?
    I have fairly severe Borderline Personality Disorder I’d live more specific information about the use of meth and opiods to cope with bpd and how to recover

    1. Hi Marie. Addiction and BDP can feed each-other, so it’s difficult to treat one without treating the other. That’s why professional therapy is usually advised. You need a medical staff that will understand and aid what is happening to your body and mind in withdrawal, and you will also need to work with a counselor or licensed psychologist during individual and group sessions to learn new coping strategies. Sometimes, psychiatrists prescribe medications to help you in your recovery. There is no shame in seeking help and being a motivated recoverer who takes her life back into her own hands. But, I believe that support is crucial, Marie. You don’t have to do this alone.

  2. I have a 23 year old son whom I believe is suffering from Co-Occurring Mental Disorders. I don’t know how to help him and I am afraid of loosing him.

    Please Help.


    1. Hi Maria. Our trusted treatment providers specialize in treating co-occurring disorders. You can reach them by calling the free helpline number displayed on our site. Your son will have the opportunity to be assessed and then, the right treatment program will be tailored according to his needs. Good luck and I hope you find answers soon!

  3. This is an incredibly insightful article. Your point about both disorders compounding each other is particularly pertinent. I think addiction often stems from initially using alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication – to numb the stress of mental illness. However using substances in this way can ultimately become a habit and evolve into addiction.

    Thanks for speaking about this important issue.

  4. Tracy,

    Having been someone who has had to live with those who are dealing with depression and addiction, this post has proven to be especially helpful. My brother has been out of recovery for about six months now, and he has been having an exceptionally hard time dealing with life post addiction and the accompanying depression that comes along with it.

    When you stated that “Those who enter treatment with the conditions of both depression and addiction frequently have a repeating pattern of staying sober for a while and then relapsing because they feel miserable,” it definitely reminded me of my current situation.

    This post not only helped me better understand what my brother is going through, but I was also able to pass it along to those going through similar situations.

    Needless to say this is definitely one of my favorite posts and I cannot wait to see what else you have to share!


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