How to Help Someone With A Drug Addiction and Depression

Kelly FitzgeraldCo-Occurring Disorders, Intervention

family member helping a loved one struggling with drug addiction and depression
There’s nothing harder than watching a loved one in pain. Seeing someone you care about deeply, struggling with the disease of addiction, can be intense and heartbreaking. What can make addiction even harder to deal with is a dual diagnosis. Addiction combined with other illnesses like depression or anxiety can complicate an already overwhelming situation. Depression and addiction are related on several levels, and it’s not uncommon to be diagnosed with both. How can you help someone you love who has substance abuse issues and depression? First, you’ll need to understand the relationship between the two conditions and then you’ll be able to learn how best to support an important person in your life.

Dual diagnosis: Addiction and Depression

A dual diagnosis is when a person has substance abuse or eating disorder issues, as well as a co-existing mental illness. Both conditions require therapeutic and medical treatment at a facility that is equipped to deal with a dual diagnosis. Since this is a unique situation with a sensitive connection between the two conditions, it’s imperative that your friend of family member enters a treatment center that has individualized plans. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says there is a positive association between substance abuse and mental health disorders. Characteristics, like being in a lower socioeconomic situation or being a military veteran, puts your loved ones at a higher risk of abusing cocaine, marijuana, opiates, cocaine and other stimulants. Research suggests that 33 percent of all people with mental illness use illicit substances. Over 33 percent of individuals who abuse alcohol, and over 50 percent of people who abuse other drugs, also suffer from mental illness.

Existing Theories on Addiction & Mental Illness

There are three theories behind the relationship between addiction and mental illness.
  • Drugs have the power to trigger mental illness – An example of this is someone who smokes marijuana and experiences paranoia for the first time as a part of substance-induced psychosis.
  • Drugs can make mental illness worse – When there is an underlying mental illness, using alcohol or drugs can trigger unwanted side effects. An example of this is when a person with clinical depression who drinks may become suicidal, or experiencing withdrawal from drugs can worsen symptoms of a mental illness.
  • Self-medication – In order to deal with pain, stress, or other uncomfortable emotions, your loved ones may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This strategy only deals with the pain at the moment and has long-term consequences.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses found in American adults. For some, addiction and depression issues develop in response to a traumatic event. Stressful episodes can trigger depression or substance abuse, but can make the brain more prone to both problems. They may even come at the same time. Your loved one may turn to drugs for help, but depression could strike anyway. The danger of co-occurring disorder is that a person may not ever get the chance to process, understand, or cope with the traumatizing event that played a role in their disorder in the first place.

How to help a person with depression and addiction in your life

It can be difficult seeing a family member suffering from depression and addiction. Living with them can be even more challenging. So, what can you do to help a person in your life who has the co-occurring disorders of depression and addiction?
  • Listen and learn – Educating yourself on the topics of addiction, depression, and dual diagnosis is a great starting point to helping your loved one.
  • Set boundaries – If you are cohabitating with this person, it’s imperative that you set your boundaries. This means that if you do not feel comfortable with drugs or alcohol in your house, you establish that rule and stick to it. It also might involve financial and other household boundaries.
  • Organize an intervention – If the situation of the important person in your life becomes too much, it may be time to organize an intervention for them. Interventions are appropriate when a person struggling with addiction cannot clearly see the negative repercussions associated with their addiction. When conducted with the right goal in mind and with professionals, interventions can be a powerful tool for change.
  • Be supportive and encouraging – You can offer to help them look for the proper treatment options and support them on their journey into recovery. But ultimately, a person cannot change unless they want to. Being available to offer an ear to listen to and an open heart to love them along the way may be the best you can do.
Understanding depression and addiction and their relationship can seem overwhelming at first, but knowledge is the key to being there for your loved ones in need. If you believe your friend or family needs treatment for addiction and depression, contact us today for help.
Written by: Kelly Fitzgerald Kelly is a sober writer based in Cape Coral, Florida, best known for her personal blog The Adventures Of A Sober Señorita. Follow her on Twitter.