Although everyone has good days and bad days, depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness that interfere with day-to-day functioning. Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders and can pose a significant threat to your recovery if it’s not properly addressed.
Depression as a Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorder
Many people initially turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate the symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression. They rely on substance abuse as a temporary escape instead of actively finding ways to deal with their problems. Unfortunately, as time passes, drug and alcohol abuse only creates additional problems that make the depression even worse.
If you have turned to substance abuse to self-medicate depression, receiving access to comprehensive mental health care needs to be part of the recovery process. Treating substance abuse without treating the underlying depression puts you at risk of relapse as soon as residential treatment is complete.
Depression as a Response to Recovery
It’s well-known that major life changes can be a trigger for depression in some individuals. Divorce, a job loss, or drifting apart from a close friend are just a few examples of situations that can lead to depression in someone who is already susceptible to the condition.
In recovery, you’re dealing with tremendous personal upheaval in many different aspects of your life. All of this is understandably hard to deal with, especially when you’re no longer turning to your old, unhealthy coping mechanisms. Even Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, found himself struggling with depression after getting sober.
It’s also worth pointing out that the physical process of withdrawal can cause chemical imbalances in the brain that can exacerbate symptoms of depression. These symptoms tend to decrease over time, however.
How Depression Can Hurt Your Recovery Efforts
Everyone’s experience is different, but some of the ways that depression can have a negative impact on your recovery include:
- Negative thinking. Depression is characterized by negative thought patterns, which can make you feel like your recovery efforts are hopeless. You may feel like getting sober is impossible or that the people around you won’t care how far you’ve already come.
- Apathy. When you’re depressed, it’s hard to be interested in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed. This can make it hard to find productive and sober ways to fill your time.
- Social isolation. Depression makes people isolate themselves from friends and family. This prevents them from developing the type of strong sober support network that is necessary to prevent relapse.
- Health problems. The lack of energy associated with depression can make it hard to take care of yourself physically. Depression can also weaken your immune system, which makes it difficult for the body to continue to repair the damage caused by past substance abuse.
While depression is normal, it’s still important to take action. Ignoring the problem and hoping it will simply go away on its own increases your risk of relapse.
Lifestyle tips to help you cope with depression include:
- Create a daily schedule. Routines provide structure and keep you from wondering what to do with your time. Schedule time for necessary chores, as well as the activities you enjoy.
- Set goals for each day. When you’re struggling to stay motivated, even small goals such as getting outside to take a walk through the park can help you keep on track.
- Make healthy meals a priority. Turning to sugary, salty, or otherwise unhealthy comfort food is a common response to depression, but eating balanced and nutritious meals is the best way to give your body the energy it needs to make the most of each day.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Keep your bedroom cool, clean, and free of distractions. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours.
- Meditate. Regular meditation helps reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress naturally.
- Take comfort in your faith. Praying or attending worship services can provide a sense of comfort when you’re struggling with feelings of depression. This is why faith in a higher power is viewed as such a vital part of 12-Step programs.
- Write in your journal. Writing about your feelings can help you recognize negative thought patterns while providing a more balanced perspective on day-to-day challenges.
- Reach out to someone you trust. Admitting that you’re struggling isn’t always easy, but talking about your feelings with a friend or your sponsor will help you feel less alone.
In addition to lifestyle modifications, your treatment team at St. Joseph Institute for Addiction’s residential Pennsylvania substance abuse recovery program may recommend ongoing counseling and treatment with antidepressant medications. It may take time and trial-and-error to find an approach to managing depression that best fits your needs, but getting your condition under control is an essential part of building a strong foundation for lasting sobriety.