At least half of people with substance use disorders have a co-occurring mental health issue. Common dual diagnoses include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, OCD, personality disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and schizophrenia. For many of these, it’s clear that the mental health issue came first. Many have strong genetic components and symptoms of conditions like autism, schizophrenia, OCD, and others may appear in adolescence, before most people have any significant experience with substance use. However, for other conditions, especially anxiety and depression, it’s not always clear which comes first. It largely depends on the situation and depression and substance use can can make each other worse and lead to a downward spiral.

The first possibility is that the depression comes first. This is fairly common, especially since the rate of depression among teens is about twice the rate of depression among adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While it’s certainly possible for teens to develop a substance use disorder, people between 18 and 25 are at the greatest risk. Often, people who have struggled with depression for years find relief in substance use. As it turns out, many substances that relieve physical pain also relieve mental pain. Unfortunately, this relief is only temporary and addiction makes life worse overall. Relying on drugs or alcohol to manage depression often leads to addiction.

However, addiction can also lead to depression. Alcohol, for example, is a central nervous system depressant. Although it may relieve emotional distress temporarily, it also inhibits your prefrontal cortex, which is, among other things, responsible for emotional regulation. Low activity in the prefrontal cortex has been linked to depression and frequent drinking keeps that activity low. Alcohol is also inflammatory and inflammation has recently been linked to depression. So heavy drinking significantly increases your risk of depression. There are similar dynamics for other drugs as well. Addiction also leads to feelings of shame and helplessness, which also increase your risk of depression.

Finally, both depression and addiction may share a common cause. For example, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual assault are major risk factors for both addiction and depression. It’s hard to say which came first. Someone who drinks to cope with a sexual assault, for example, may develop a substance use disorder and depression at the same time.

If you do have a diagnosis of depression and addiction, it’s important to treat them both in an integrated way. Just treating one or the other makes it much harder to recover from either. An integrated plan that deals with both the addiction and depression significantly increases your chances of a successful recovery.

At Alta Lama Transformational Services, you will meet knowledgeable, compassionate professionals that understand addiction in all its forms.  Alta Lama uses an integrative and holistic approach to treat addiction and mental health issues. No treatment is one-size-fits-all, where you will have a team of experts prepared to create your customized treatment plan.  We offer care for your mind, body, and spirit, so that you can heal from the inside out and look forward to a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, please call us at 866-457-3843.