Depression and Addiction Recovery: 10 Things You Need to Know

Depression and addiction are intricately connected, and for many people in recovery, depression is an ongoing issue that requires continual treatment and care. Often, symptoms of depression trigger the urge to drink or get high, and in turn, the ongoing use of drugs and alcohol can cause symptoms of depression.

For that reason, dual diagnosis treatment – or treatment for both addiction and the co-occurring disorder of depression – is recommended, and long-term aftercare services and support are necessary for stabilization in recovery.

Here’s what you need to know to help yourself feel stronger in your ability to manage cravings for substances while managing depression symptoms at the same time:

  1. Online screening can help you identify the need for more intensive treatment. National Depression Screening Day happens in October, but any time is a good time to determine whether or not depression may be playing a role in your ability to stay sober. There are a number of online screening tools that can help you to determine whether or not you would benefit from reaching out to a professional. From depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (all of which can generate symptoms of depression), there are free online screening tools that can identify a treatable disorder.
  2. Depression treatment is effective. October is Depression Awareness Month, and one of the best ways you can help yourself if you feel that depression is an issue is to learn more about the disorder. There are a number of organizations and resources available to you in this process, and your primary care physician can also answer your questions and direct you to a therapist who can assist you.
  3. Support groups can help. Talking to other people who are living with depression and connecting with other people in recovery from addiction can play a major role in helping you to stay sober and manage depression symptoms. Others can provide tips and advice when you are struggling, and they can empathize with what you are experiencing and be supportive of you and your needs.
  4. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors cannot be ignored. If you are considering hurting yourself or have tried suicide, there is immediate help available. Do not wait to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  5. Restorative sleep is a must. Getting sleep that is restorative and helps you to wake up refreshed and ready to go can have a positive impact on your mood. Not only will your energy levels rise, but your stress levels will decrease and your immune system will have time to repair, making it easier to handle whatever comes your way. When depression is an issue, it is very common to sleep too much or too little. If either is an issue, it is a sign that treatment for depression may be indicated.
  6. Healthy food improves mood. Like getting good sleep every night, healthy food also improves your immune function, increases your energy level, and can help you to feel calmer, more alert, and better prepared to handle the day. Start by eating a solid breakfast that contains protein, unsaturated fats, fruits or vegetables, and whole grains, giving you enough energy to start your day off right.
  7. Journaling gives you a place to vent. Keeping a journal allows you to “talk through” your thoughts every day, whenever the mood strikes. You do not have to wait for your therapist to get to the heart of what is happening with you, though you can consider sharing some parts with your therapist if it helps you process uncomfortable emotions or can otherwise assist in the healing process.
  8. Tracking your moods can help you to identify what is working and what is not. Different from journaling, a mood tracker can help you to notice patterns in how you are feeling. How long do you feel sad? When is anger an issue? Are there certain events that trigger depression episodes? What, if anything, helps you to move past those feelings and begin to feel balanced, even if just for a moment? There are a number of apps that make it easy to track your moods, but if you prefer, a simple notebook can work just as well.
  9. Persistence is key. There is no cure for depression, just as there is no cure for addiction, but there are a number of research-based treatment options that have been proven effective in helping people to manage their symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, holistic treatments like yoga and acupuncture, and more have all been shown to be effective in helping individuals minimize their depression symptoms, and decrease the frequency and intensity of depression episodes.
  10. You can always go back to treatment. If you feel that your depression symptoms are getting in the way of your ability to stay sober, it may be a good idea to return to treatment, either for an intensive outpatient program or for residential care. If this level of intensity does not feel appropriate and you would like to simply increase the level of support you have every day, you also have a number of outpatient treatment options to choose from. The key is to continue trying different methods of treatment and care until you find the right combination of therapies and/or medication that works for you.

Is it time for you to take a depression screening?

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