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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.
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
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
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.