Co-Occurring Depression and Drug or Alcohol Addiction

In the United States, estimates indicate that close to a third of patients with depression also have substance use disorders.1 Co-occurring disorders such as these can complicate the road to recovery, as some treatment facilities may treat the substance use but not the mental or mood disorder. Sometimes, mood disorders like depression go undiagnosed in those who are addicted to mind-altering substances, resulting in a missed opportunity for beneficial treatment intervention.

To provide comprehensive treatment for substance use disorders, treatment professionals also need to address a patient’s mental or mood disorder, should one be present. So, in this context, what’s the connection between depression and substance abuse? And what does treatment look like for co-occurring disorders that involve depression?

What is Depression?

a woman suffering from depressive disorderDepression is one of the most prevalent mood disorders in the U.S.—an estimated 17.3 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2017.2

Depression can have a pervasive negative impact on several areas of a person’s life, and has been associated with:

  • General decline in quality of life.
  • Interpersonal relationship issues.
  • More prevalent substance use behavior.
  • Other potentially harmful behaviors such as smoking or not taking prescribed medications.
  • Increased risk of suicide.
  • Greater likelihood of early mortality.

Risk factors for Depression

Those who suffer from depression might wonder what in their genetics, family history, or life could have contributed to their mood disorder. Though the “cause” of many mental health conditions is often difficult to pinpoint, independent risk factors for depression include:3

  • Having a first-degree relative with a history of depression. This is believed to be related to some unidentified genetic factor and is one of the most common risks for depression.
  • Gender. Females are diagnosed with depression 1.5-3 times more often than males are.
  • Adverse experiences in childhood. These experiences include abuse, loss of a parent, poor support from parents, etc. Such experiences increase the risk for depression in adolescence and adulthood.
  • Major life changes, stress, and trauma. These are associated with an increased likelihood of depression.
  • A chronic or serious medical condition. There are many different medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of developing depression, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, arthritis, and a host of others.
  • A substance use disorderIndividuals with chronic substance abuse issues develop depression at higher rates than people who have no substance abuse problems.
  • Other psychological disordersDepression is comorbid with a number of other psychological disorders, including anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and eating disorders.

Symptoms of Depression

In order to receive a diagnosis for depression, an individual must present with five or more of potential symptoms during the same two-week period. The symptoms cannot be better explained by:4

  • Some other mental health disorder (many psychological disorders have depressed mood as part of their presentation).
  • A medical condition (e.g., hypothyroidism).
  • The effects of medication or drugs.

The symptoms must significantly interfere with the person’s normal functioning and occur nearly every day.4

Depression symptoms include:4

  1. Feeling guilty or worthless.
  2. A depressed mood most of the day.
  3. Sleep difficulties (either insomnia or excessive sleeping).
  4. Demonstrating significantly diminished interests in activities or an inability to experience pleasure.
  5. A significant loss of energy or feelings of fatigue.
  6. Recurrent thoughts of death or committing suicide.
  7. Significant physical slowing or irritability and restlessness.
  8. Significant weight loss not occurring as a result of dieting, weight gain, or changes in appetite.

These symptoms, plus the pervasive sadness that depression can have can be potentially fatal, resulting in outcomes such as an associated increased risk of suicidality and self-harm.The number of the above symptoms present in a given individual and their subsequent impact on daily functioning correlates with the severity of the disorder.4

Depression and Substance Use Disorders

In general, rates of substance use disorders are nearly twice as high in individuals diagnosed with a mood disorder such as depression than in individuals without such a diagnosis.

Although any type of substance abuse or dependence may co-occur with mood disorders, several types of substance use may exemplify particularly prevalent comorbidities:

Treatment for Depression and Substance Use Disorder

a therapist comforts a patient dealing with depressionPeople with a combination of mental health issues may benefit from the simultaneous treatment of both. For instance, someone with a dual diagnosis (a situation also described as co-occurring disorders) of depression and a substance use disorder may experience more comprehensive recovery by having both of these issues addressed at the same time.7

Behavioral Therapy Options

A treatment team for someone with a dual diagnosis could consist of physicians (psychiatrists or other addiction treating doctors), psychologists, social workers, counselors, case managers, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and any other mental health professionals that fit into the overall treatment plan for the individual.

Below is a breakdown of a few commonly used behavioral therapeutic techniques and treatment settings helpful for people with co-occurring disorders.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
    Although CBT is a general term classifying a few different types of therapy, it’s based on the idea that psychological problems come, in part, from unhelpful ways of thinking and learned patterns of unhelpful behavior. Professionals administering CBT endeavor to provide the patient with strategies and coping skills to help shift thinking patterns and cope with difficult situations.8
  • Contingency Management (CM)
    CM may be integrated into a larger behavioral health treatment plan for people with co-occurring disorders. Such voucher or prize-based systems can be implemented to reward patients who practice healthy behaviors and reduce unhealthy behaviors.9 
  • Therapeutic Communities (TCs)
    For some suffering from depression and substance use disorder, long-term residential treatment in therapeutic communities (TCs) might be a good choice for recovery. With a goal of focusing on the “resocialization” of the patient, many TCs integrate community programs and therapies with medical approaches.10

Some other, general rehab settings and treatment features include:

  • Residential/inpatient treatment programs to provide an immersive, supportive treatment environment in which to begin integrated treatment for substance use disorders and mental health issues.
  • Medication management for both depression (e.g., using antidepressants) and—depending on the substance of abuse—the substance use disorder.
  • Individual and group therapy to address the client’s specific issues that could otherwise complicate recovery from both the depression and the substance use disorder.
  • Support group participation, such as getting involved in a 12-step group or some other specialty group, such as a depression support group.
  • Medical treatment for any medical conditions that are present.
  • Relapse prevention techniques to ensure that the person develops the skills necessary to avoid potential relapse in the future.
  • Family counseling, if needed.
  • Vocational counseling to help the individual maintain employment or feel more productive.
  • Case management to assist the individual with housing or other needed supports
  • Long-term aftercare support and case management to assist the individual down the road.

At Oxford Treatment Center, our inpatient rehab in Mississippi, a patient dealing with depression and substance use disorder concurrently would have their treatment tailored to his or her specific situation. Many of the treatments, services, and therapies mentioned above are available at Oxford Treatment Center’s facilities. Learn more about the levels of addiction treatment we offer and how to get admitted to rehab today.

Does Health Insurance Cover Treatment for Co-Occurring Depression and Addiction?

Yes, many health insurance plans offer some level of coverage for treating co-occurring disorders like depression and substance use disorder. Our admissions team will work with you to help get the mot out of your health insurance coverage for rehab, as well as help to provide more information about other ways to pay for addiction treatment without insurance.

Your wellbeing is of utmost priority to us. You can begin the process of your recovery by filling out our secure For more information, contact us at .

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