Treating Comorbid Major Depressive Disorder and Addiction

Published On: June 29, 2022|Categories: Addiction Treatment, Mental Health Treatment|

It’s not uncommon to struggle with mental health and addiction at the same time. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that around half of those who face addiction meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder as well

Of co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders, major depressive disorder, or MDD, is one of the most prevalent. MDD is the clinical term for a diagnosis of depression. While there are other depressive disorders, like seasonal affective disorder and persistent depressive disorder, when most people talk about depression, MDD is what they are referring to.

MDD is characterized by extreme sadness for the majority of the day most days of the week. If you’ve ever wondered about how addiction and depression are related, here’s what you need to know.

Major Depressive Disorder symptoms

MDD can be diagnosed by a doctor or mental health professional. Here are the most common major depressive disorder symptoms that he or she will be looking for.

  • Overwhelming sadness for most of the day over an extended period of time
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Decreased interests in things you previously found enjoyable
  • Self-isolation
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Lethargy
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Being unable to feel pleasure
  • Apathy
  • Increasing substance use
  • Indifference about the danger of overdose
  • Feeling unable to control substance use
  • Feeling a lack of desire to control substance use

When sadness and other major depressive disorder symptoms cause functional interference in your daily life, it’s likely that you’ll receive a diagnosis. Then, you’ll begin treatment with psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle changes.

Perhaps the most severe MDD symptom is suicidality or homicidality. If you have thought about harming yourself or someone else, or have plans to do so, it’s time to reach out for emergency intervention. 

Whether you call for help yourself or tell a trusted friend, this step needs to happen immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or your local emergency number.

The origins of MDD

People often wonder if substance use causes mental illness or vice versa, but the truth is that the onset of any mental health disorder is complex, though there is a clear link between the two conditions. Struggling with one does increase the likelihood that you will face the other at some point in your lifetime.

There are various schools of thought for the connection between the two. One is that certain genes may indicate a susceptibility to both mental illness and addiction. For example, a more neurotic personality—a tendency toward negative emotions—is influenced by genes and can make a person more prone to both depression and addiction.

Another common argument is that individuals who start to use drugs and alcohol initially begin using in an effort to self-medicate, which then spirals into substance use disorder. Whether continued use remains an effort to self-medicate or is simply the natural course of addiction is a more personal question.

There are other reasons for the relationship between MDD and substance use, but one thing is clear; while each may make the symptoms of the other more severe, the onset of one is not always a certain precursor to the other.

MDD and addiction

If you have fought major depressive disorder or addiction before, it’s important to understand the other so you can prevent your problems from worsening. The physical and mental harm that comes from these co-occurring disorders is compounded when left untreated.

The journal Addiction Science and Clinical Practice states that depression and other mood disorders are the most common mental health diagnoses among those in treatment for substance use disorders

While comorbid MDD and substance use is common, it’s not always easy to spot. Major depressive disorder symptoms like lethargy, changes in appetite, irritability and self-destructive behavior are often mistaken for manifestations of substance use.

That’s why confronting both addiction and mental illness simultaneously is difficult, but necessary. The journal Current Opinion in Psychiatry has found that comorbidity leads to higher rates of suicide, greater social and functional impairments and worsened mental health outcomes.

Pyramid Healthcare can help you break out of the cycles of substance use and unhappiness. With a continuum of care to meet your needs at every stage, you’ll find care you’re comfortable with. Call Pyramid Healthcare today.

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