The Complications of a Dual Diagnosis: When a Depressed Person Is an Addict


Depression affects approximately 14.8 million adult Americans. That’s roughly 7 percent of the population and doesn’t include the many teens who also suffer from depression. Sufferers of clinical depression find it hard to recover from life’s downs, and suffer greatly from heightened feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. Unfortunately, some depressed people will turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to self-medicate their depressive disorder. When an individual suffers from both depression and addiction, there is a need for a dual diagnosis. Addiction complicates depression, but with a dual diagnosis and a long-term plan for treatment an individual can overcome both and lead a healthy life.

Dual DiagnosisTreating Depression and Addiction Together

One is not more serious than the other; both depression and addiction must be treated by experienced professionals. It’s important to choose a facility that understands the complications of a dual diagnosis, and offers patients access to highly credentialed doctors, therapists, and certified counselors. For example, the HARP Palm Beach rehab center in Palm Beach, Florida staffs specialists who are “highly experienced in the field of addiction treatment and co-occurring disorders.” In other words, they specialize in dual diagnosis.

HARP, which stands for Honesty, Assertiveness, Responsibility, and Peace, warns that there is a higher chance for relapse in cross-addicted individuals. Both the depression and the addiction must be treated properly. Both disorders must be treated, and neither can take precedence over the other.

Counseling, Education, Support, and Relapse Prevention

Dual diagnosis is complex. Each diagnosis, the depression and the addiction, can influence and intensify the effects of the other. For example, many sufferers of depression attempt to self-medicate with addictive substances and interactions. These may include, but aren’t limited to: alcohol, drugs (prescription and street), sex, and gambling.

A report published in The Journal of American Medical Association found that “roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.” Self-medicating can lead to addiction, and both the addiction and the depression feed one another. As one condition progresses, so does the other. Depression is a sort of gateway to substance abuse and other forms of addiction.

So, what can be done? It’s not simple, but treatment should begin with qualified professionals who are familiar with dual diagnosis. Each person is unique; therefore, their treatment plan should be developed based on individual need. Counseling is a necessary step, as is education. The patient should be taught to understand their depression, the causes of it and steps to effectively manage it, as well as educated on their substance abuse.

Inpatient addiction treatment is often necessary to ensure success. The patient may require medically assisted detoxification, as well as intensive therapy and supportive peer groups. It doesn’t end after inpatient treatment. Dual diagnosis often leads to chronic relapse, but it doesn’t have to. Continuing care is necessary for relapse prevention. Outpatient therapy can help those with dual diagnosis continue to live a sober life.

The Takeaway for Patients Suffering from Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis treatment program should result in a better understanding of the nature of depression, and a motivation to make life changes, manifesting in practical life skills and a willingness to tackle negative thoughts in a positive way. For example, the patient may learn that their diet plays an active role in their depression and learn which foods to avoid, in order to avoid actively triggering their depression.

Treatment will assist the patient in identifying and altering addictive behaviors too. For example, the patient may need to learn to let go of negative people and situations that encourage substance abuse. The patient may also require ongoing treatment, but they’ll know that recovery is possible.

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