Mental illness and addiction go hand in hand. Whether mental illness comes first or addiction comes first is a topic for another moment. Nonetheless, many recovering from substance use disorders and mental illness in the early days of recovery are challenging. Unfortunately, many will struggle with depression in sobriety, particularly in the early days. Risking suffering a relapse and having to go back to treatment is a paralyzing fear many recovering addicts — and their families — have to face in sober living.
However, we know that regardless of where you’re in your recovery journey, there are ways to manage depression in sobriety and other mental health problems that might arise as you navigate through recovery. Let’s explore the different ways you can take control of your addiction and mental health well past you complete treatment.
The Reality of Depression in Early Recovery
Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease of the brain. After years of consuming mind-altering substances, the way addicts’ brains work is entirely different. Their brain reward system is entirely rewired, often triggering false messages and disrupting feel-good neurotransmitters’ balance.
As the body adjusts to functioning without these substances, it enters a period of calibration. Sometimes, when this happens, people experience signs of severe anxiety, depression, and more. Not to mention, the early days of recovery are challenging, scary, and can lead to countless struggles.
Symptoms of Depression
There’s a misconception that depression equals sadness. The more you know about the depression in sobriety, the more you’ll be able to act in the early stages. Everyone will manifest signs of depression differently, which is why learning as much as possible about it is so important. The most common symptoms of depression include:
- Low mood
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Sleep problems
- Chronic fatigue
- Social isolation
- Not enjoying previously enjoyable activities
- Appetite disturbance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Intrusive thoughts of death or suicide
Depression in Substance Abuse Treatment
It’s not uncommon to struggle with depression or other mental illness problems while you’re seeking substance abuse treatment. In fact, the majority of people in addiction treatment are also suffering from undiagnosed mental health problems. Unfortunately, not everyone seeks the right treatment for these conditions.
In 2018, the percentage of adults with serious mental illness and those who used illicit drugs in the past was about 49.9 percent, while others with any mental illness were 36.7 percent. Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
If someone with addiction and depression only treats the addiction, it’s highly likely that they’ll relapse or experience pitfalls. To successfully treat these conditions, they must seek dual diagnosis programs that offer a comprehensive treatment approach. Only when treating these conditions simultaneously could you have a successful treatment plan.
How to Manage Depression in Sobriety
However, even if someone undergoes a dual diagnosis program, depression has a way of crippling back into your life. For those in early sobriety, experiencing depression can feel like a setback and potentially lead them to relapse. This is why it’s essential to stay active during your sobriety and continue seeking help and support from those around you.
If you feel that depression is taking over your life, talk to a therapist. Even if it’s once a month, going back to therapy can help recognize what these new feelings might be. A licensed therapist can help you navigate your emotions and identify unhealthy behaviors that might trigger your symptoms. Maybe you need to try family therapy to discuss these setbacks as a unit.
Consider Support Groups
Sober life is scary, intimidating, and challenging at times. Consider joining a support group to not only help you stay sober but to talk about your symptoms of depression in early sobriety. Talking to others that have gone through similar experiences can be quite therapeutic and help you feel supported and seen.
It’s easy to lose control of your mind and let it take over when you don’t practice mindfulness. We live in a world where we’re bombarded with distractions that make us feel less at the moment. Try practicing mindfulness through meditation, yoga, exercise, and prayers.
Make mindfulness a part of your life by limiting distractions while you eat, when you talk to your partner, or spend time with your children. By being mindful of your surroundings, you’ll also become more aware of any trouble-alerts your body might try to send you.
In the end, depression is a mood disorder, an actual mental health condition that can be diagnosed. While it might seem scary for a recovering addict to take medications, you might need them. Antidepressants can be beneficial for some people, and not so much for others.
Discuss with your counselor and doctor the possibility of taking medication to manage your depression symptoms. Be honest about your history of substance abuse and create a medication management system to ensure you don’t relapse on antidepressants.
Is Taking Antidepressants a Relapse?
Many recovering addicts worry about taking medication. Based on the abstinence method of most recovery programs, taking antidepressants would be considered a relapse. However, in reality, it is not.
The use of antidepressants to manage depression symptoms and other mental health conditions like anxiety doesn’t mean you have an active addiction. If someone takes their medication for health-related purposes, they’re not relapsing. They’re taking care of their health.
However, there is a fine line between caring for your health and relapse. When someone suffers a relapse, they experience a recurrence of the disease after going into recovery. In other words, it would mean someone has now become addicted to antidepressants or has gone back to using previously abused substances.
Taking antidepressants for managing symptoms in sobriety would be considered a relapse if someone starts:
- Fantasizing about drugs and alcohol abuse
- Missing therapy sessions
- Justifying small or moderate drug use
- Engaging in compulsive behavior
- Spending a large amount of time in isolation
- Struggling with increasing mental health symptoms
Finding Continued Support
Recovery from addiction is a lifelong journey that requires continued support. While many addicts would like to close the book and move on to the next chapter of their life, it isn’t straightforward. Addiction will always be a part of who you are. If you or someone you know struggles with depression in sobriety, please reach out to a professional counselor today. One simple therapy session can help you take control of your life back and prevent a catastrophic relapse.