The ugly truth about depression and substance abuse

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The World Health Organisation states that of the 350 million people reported to suffer from depression, 50 per cent won’t receive treatment.

Wedge Gardens

Research indicates there is a connection between mood disorders such as depression and substance abuse.

This is according to social worker Karen Griessel, who has helped dozens of people to kick addiction by attending Wedge Gardens’ professional treatment programme.

South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca)-affiliated Wedge Gardens has developed a holistic treatment programme, which is based on multi-disciplinary interventions that focus on assessment, behaviour change, family and community integration and recovery care within the life cycle of addiction. It offers assistance from the onset to the later years.

“People diagnosed with a mood disorder are twice as likely to abuse substances and one-third of people with depression have an alcohol problem. People who are depressed may drink or abuse drugs to lift their mood or to escape feelings of guilt or despair. However, substances like alcohol – which is a depressant – can increase feelings of sadness or fatigue,” pointed out Griessel.

She explained that people may experience depression after the effects of drugs wear off or as they struggle to cope with how the addiction has impacted their lives.

“A drink or two or a line of cocaine might temporarily relieve some symptoms, but the backlash when the chemical leaves the body brings the depression to new lows. This withdrawal depression happens each time chemicals leave the body. This can trigger the use of more alcohol or drugs because they help get rid of the bad feelings.”

Those who suffer from depression are combating more than just occasional sadness said Griessel.

“Many times, the symptoms of depression manifest physically as well as mentally. Some of the symptoms include the following: aches and pains, sleeplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, weight issues, sleeping too much, no energy, crying, a sense of worthlessness, irritability, a general loss of interest in life or suicide. Some of the root causes of depression include problematic brain functioning, the environment, childhood experiences, genetics, situational factors and chemical imbalances in the brain.”

Griessel added that it was not clear which comes first – addiction or depression. “Some people develop alcoholism or drug addiction first, while others develop depression first. Because drug-use symptoms can imitate or mirror the symptoms of depression, it can be difficult to diagnose depression when a person is actively using drugs,” she said.

“A person who abuses a substance may also develop depression. For instance, the person may abuse a substance, become addicted, and eventually, it affects his or her life negatively. These effects may contribute to the development of depression as it alters the levels of serotonin,” she further added.

She pointed out that people who have depression may abuse a substance to self-medicate and treat the problem.

“Although a substance may be abused or used to relieve symptoms, chemical intoxication can make depressive episodes more severe by increasing the frequency and intensity of negative thoughts and self-destructive behaviour. Typically, this is only a temporary solution, as the abuse of a substance exacerbates depression over time. Drug or alcohol dependency can cause a great deal of hardship across all spectrums of life and ultimately worsen the person’s depression.”

The World Health Organisation states that of the 350 million people reported to be suffering from depression, half of them won’t receive treatment

Treatment for depression and substance abuse generally includes both medication and therapy. Antidepressants may be used to stabilise mood, while various medications may be needed to moderate the withdrawal of abused substances. Therapy makes up the backbone of treatment because it addresses issues related to both disorders. A rehab programme that addresses both depression and addiction may help to stop the progression of both disorders and will empower the individual to build a healthy, sober life.

“Someone who had depression before they began to abuse substances will most likely need treatment, including medication intervention, for a longer time than someone whose depression was caused by the cycle of addiction.

“Depression is a chronic, progressive illness that may get worse without treatment. The only way to treat this serious disorder effectively is through professional therapeutic interventions such as behavioural modification, support groups, motivational therapy and antidepressant medications.”

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