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As a travel loving freelancer, I have been writing and counseling since 2005. My expertise lies in the areas of psychology, marketing, health and sustainable living. I have undergraduate and graduate degrees which have helped me excel in these fields.

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Writing Sample

Understanding Depression

In confronting a drug or alcohol addiction, it may often be found along the way that there is something deeper going on within the psyche of the individual struggling with addiction. This is termed dual-diagnosis, or a co-occurring disorder (COD). There are several disorders outlined in the DSM-V (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders), and any one--or several--may be present in a person at any given time. This comorbidity is more common than people may think, and when it occurs, it is difficult to determine which disorder came first; if they are interrelated, or if they are completely independent of the other. With that being said, mental health disorders are commonly diagnosed alongside drug or alcohol addiction.

Understanding what lies beneath a dual-diagnosis, and how using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate symptoms is important when it comes to treating those with co-occurring disorders, as well as understanding the inner struggle of the individual. Breaking the stigma surrounding drug and alcohol abuse involves considering the way each individual suffers, and learning to understand that they are among a large population in America who are currently struggling on a day-to-day basis to function in society. The good news is that there is help available for those who suffer from these disorders, and that they are not alone. If one can begin to better understand the mental disorders that linger beneath addiction, they may be able to better understand those who suffer from it, as well as their tendency to self-medicate.

Depression Description

One common illness which often presents comorbidly with addiction is depression. Depression is a highly common disorder--affecting 1 in 10 Americans at some point in their lives. Of these 1 in 10, 80% do not seek treatment. This number is estimated to increase by 20% every year. If 80% of those suffering from depression refuse to seek treatment, there is a good chance that a large percentage of this population self-medicates with substances outside of the psychotropic treatment plan recommended for treating their disorder. This is dangerous, as drugs and alcohol throw the neurotransmitters in the brain out of balance, thus making the depression symptoms worse in the long run once the euphoria fades.

Common symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, emptiness, a lack of joy and motivation, suicidal ideation, insomnia or hypersomnia, loss of appetite, or an increased appetite. Depression may affect the way a person functions in life. This can have a negative impact on their work performance and interpersonal relationships. A person with depression is likely to self-isolate, and may have a difficult time making decisions. There is also a struggle in upkeeping self-care and hygiene while feeling depressed. A person suffering from this disorder may also struggle with negative thought patterns--paired with self-destructive behavior.

Classifications of Depression

The DSM-V has identified several classifications for depression cases dependent upon their symptoms, length of prevalence, and known triggers. These different types of depression include:

  • Dysthymia or Persistent Depression Disorder: When depression symptoms are persistent for two years or longer, and milder than Major Depressive Disorder.
  • Perinatal Depression: This may happen while pregnant, or after giving birth, and lasts longer than two weeks.
  • Psychotic Depression: Depression that presents with symptoms of psychosis, including delusional thoughts/beliefs or audio/visual hallucinations. Psychotic depression is common in those who suffer from schizoaffective disorder, as they experience psychotic features in both states of depression, and mania (irritability or euphoria).
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Depression that is triggered by the changing of the seasons, and life triggers such as going back to school, or taking time off work. This disorder is quite common during fall and winter months, and is uncommon during the summertime.
  • Bipolar Depression: Depression that swings like a pendulum between extreme lows, and their antithesis—manic or hypomanic episodes of irritability or euphoria.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: This is a severe form of pre-menstrual syndrome. Symptoms include feelings of depression, lethargy, irritability and anger, sudden bursts of sadness, anxiety, lack of interest, marked weight change or gain, bloating, muscle and joint pain, and headaches. 2-10% of women suffer from PMDD.
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: This is a new disorder defining children aged 6-18 (onset must be before 10 years of age) who have extreme outbursts of anger, irritability and a persistently angry mood 3 or more times per week for at least one year. These must be reactions that are out of proportion, in terms of anger intensity and duration of anger, to the situation. 
  • Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder: Alcohol or substance use may cause depression, as well as other medications.
  • Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Often times, patients with life altering, or life threatening medical conditions may develop depression, such as a person with malignant cancer, or an injury that has taken away the ability to use their body like they once could.
  • Other Specified Depressive Disorder: These are forms of depression that do not fit into the other categories, such as short-term depression, only 4 of the 8 symptoms of depression, or someone with a depressed affect who doesn’t present enough symptoms of depression (but has at least one) for a more serious diagnosis.
  • Unspecified Depressive Disorder: This happens when someone presents some or all symptoms of depression with a mix of other symptoms that do not fit with any other diagnosis. Often times, it is difficult to pinpoint the cause for these disorders, but psychotherapy is always recommended.

Subtypes of Depression

In addition to the several categories of depression, there are subtypes that determine some of the symptoms that may present in the presence of a depressive episode. These include

  • Melancholic: A form of depression that involves a lack of interest or ability to feel pleasure in the presence of positive stimuli. May also include an inability to sleep and eat.
  • Atypical: A form of depression that involves over eating and sleeping, and feelings of sluggishness. The person may experience weight gain, but their mood may improve in the presence of positive stimuli.
  • Anxiety: Symptoms of anxiety present on top of depression, which is common in 40% of cases, and may cause challenges in treatment.
  • Vascular: This is a new diagnosis, as that those with silent cardiovascular disease may present symptoms of depression, typically over the age of 60.

Treating Depression

Studies have shown that the best method for treating depression is the combination of psychotherapy with antidepressant medications. It is also helpful to ensure you are getting 15 minutes of sunlight per day, on a regulated sleep cycle (a natural neurotransmitter regulator), getting enough exercise, and eating healthy. A poor diet, irregular sleep schedule, lack of exercise, or not enough sunlight alone is enough to make a person feel depressed. Studies show that 60-80% of those suffering from depression will find healing through psychotherapy and psychotropic medications combined.

One obstacle in treating depression is the tendency for someone with this disorder to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol. Drugs and alcohol should not be combined with most psychotropic medications, and could actually be working against what the medicine is trying to do, as many substances are depressant by nature, or will create more imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters, which directly affect mood.

Do you, or someone you know, suffer from depression? You do not have to suffer alone, and there are many resources to help find treatment (hyperlink to recovery resource blog). If you’d like to learn more about recovery or drug testing, please check out our resource center for more information. If you’d like to monitor someone you know with depression to ensure they aren’t self-medicating, order a test kit today.







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