Battling Depression While in Recovery

Battling Depression While in Recovery

Depression is more than just feeling a bit down. It is a medical illness that involves both mental and physical elements. Depression can impact every aspect of your  life and can make normal functioning almost impossible. It is estimated that 850,000 commit suicide as a result of depression each year.

People can experience depression in different ways, but most see signs like these:

Negative thinking. The individual will depression will have pessimistic thoughts about the future. They will also usually find that their thinking is foggy, and it is difficult to concentrate.
Negative feelings. There is no longer much enjoyment to be found in life. Even things that were once enjoyable are no longer so appealing.
Negative behavior. Negative thoughts and feelings impact behavior. The individual does not have much energy and my try to isolate from the rest of the world.
Health problems. Depression leads to health problems. People who feel this way will lose interest in taking care of themselves. There is also evidence that depression also weakens the immune system.

Can you spot the Symptoms of Depression?

It is important to be able to spot the symptoms of depression so it can be treated promptly. The longer the condition is ignored the more devastation it can cause in the life of the individual. The most common symptoms include:

Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning Lack of energy
Thoughts of suicide Things that were once enjoyable are no longer as satisfying
Pessimism about the future Alcohol or drug abuse (relapse)
Low self esteem Comfort eating
Poor concentration Loss of appetite
Insomnia Feeling that life lacks meaning
Irritability Guilt about the past
Memory difficulties Unexplained body aches and pains

 Experiencing Depression in Recovery

It is not unusual for people in addiction recovery to experience depression. Even Bill W, who was the founder of the Twelve Step movement, battled hard against depression after he became sober. There is a close link between depression and addiction, and for a lot of people this link continues to exist even after they escape their addiction. This condition can take much of the enjoyment out of recovery so it is important to seek medical help in order to rectify the situation.

Dual Diagnosis in Recovery

A dual diagnosis exists when the individual suffers from a mental health problem combined with addiction. Some studies suggest that as many as 47% of those with mental health problems will also abuse alcohol and drugs. A dual diagnosis can occur as a result of substance abuse, but in a lot of cases it may have led to the addiction in the first place.

People who are dealing with a mental health problem may decide to turn to substance abuse in order to escape their symptoms. This type of self-medication can provide short-term relief, but once addiction has taken hold the individual will be in a far worse situation. They will then have two problems to deal with instead of one. Breaking an addiction is hard for anyone, but it is particularly difficult for those who have a mental health problem like depression.

Some addicts develop a dual diagnosis as a result of their substance abuse. Alcohol and drugs can have a devastating impact on mental health. Alcohol is a type of depressant and long-term abuse can lead to depressive symptoms. In fact many of the popular recreational drugs have the negative consequence of increasing the risk of experiencing depression. Sometimes substance abuse induced depression will continue on into recovery.

The Dangers of Depression in Recovery

Depression can take much of the joy out of recovery. It also increases the risk of relapse. People may believe that suicide is their only way out. Going through all the effort of escaping alcohol or drug abuse should mean a good life in recovery – nobody gets sober to feel bad. It is therefore vital that people recognize the symptoms of depression and act upon them.

People can blame themselves for their depression. They may suspect that it is occurring because they have been doing something wrong. Friends in recovery may even suggest that such symptoms occur because of lack of effort in the recovery program. Such thinking can be dangerous because it may delay the individual from seeking help. Unless proper treatment is obtained the condition may continue to deteriorate. The idea that they symptoms of depression are always a sign of ‘not working the program properly’ is wrong. While friends will be often well meaning it is important that a diagnosis be given by somebody qualified to provide it.

Treatment for Depression

Once depression has been diagnosed there will be a number of different treatment options available. The best type of treatment to use depends on the type of depression but can include:

The most common way to treat depression is to prescribe medication. These work by interacting with the body chemicals that produce depressive symptoms. It can take a few weeks for this type of medication to produce results. There can sometimes be unpleasant side-effects from these drugs. The doctor will be able to experiment with different medications until the most effective one is found. In most instances these drugs will be effective at resolving the symptoms of depression.

Psychotherapy is sometimes referred to as the ‘talking cure’. These days such therapy is often offered in combination with anti-depressant medication. During these sessions the individual can learn coping strategies for dealing with their symptoms.

With severe depression it may be decided that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the best option. This involves passing an electric current through the brain to induce a seizure. This is described as being similar to pressing the reset button on a computer. These days ECT only tends to be recommended when all other options have failed.

5 Tips for Battling Depression While in Recovery

  1. Build a solid, social-sober support network, and try to include people who also suffer from depressive disorders and are in recovery.
  2. Avoid people, places, and things that trigger cravings and urges or that you find triggers depressive symptoms. However, if you have holidays or birthdays or weddings or other special events that you want to attend but that might trigger cravings for alcohol or make you feel down, bring someone from your support network with you. Also, have a specific purpose and a time limit in mind when you attend. For example, go with the plan that you are going to greet the people at the event, congratulate them, and then begin to say your farewells after thirty minutes and commit to being out the door after 45 minutes. If it is a family dinner, like Thanksgiving, that triggers your depressive symptoms or cravings for alcohol, you might not be able to go to these, at least while your recovery is still in the early phases. Or, just show up for dessert.
  3. You are responsible for your own sober recovery as well as taking care of your own depression. You can’t expect the world to change around you. Others will not stop drinking — nor are they required to. They will not stop asking you to do things that may not be good for you. So ask your therapist to help you work on refusal skills — that is, the ability to say “no.”
  4. For people with depression, who tend to withdraw from their friends and families anyway, it may be harder to make new, sober friends. Start with friends from your support groups and then go from there.
  5. If you are taking medications for alcoholism, depression or both, be sure to report any unusual symptoms to your doctor immediately. If they are severe, go to the nearest emergency room. Also, advocate for yourself. If you are concerned about symptoms or the longer-term effects of your medication, read up on the pharmaceutical company’s web site. Make sure your doctor is giving you the requisite blood tests (if recommended), and is monitoring your response and reaction to the medication as advised by the drug’s producers.


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