Depression after Drug Addiction

How to Cope and Treat Depression after Drug Addiction

When it comes to understanding the connection between depression and drug one question that comes to mind is: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Whether an individual was first suffering from depression and then used drugs to self-medicate or if the depression appears after drug addiction, the resulting anguish is the same:  Depression hurts.  For the purposes of this blog the focus will be on depression after drug addiction.

It is well known that drug addiction literally rewires brain chemistry and neural pathways, distinct changes that are visible in an MRI of an addict’s brain.  Over the course of the addiction these physical and physiological changes wreak havoc on the brain’s mood center, the limbic region, impacting brain pathways involved in stress, reward, sleep, learning, pain, and memory.  After chronic drug use, the body becomes unable to produce the chemicals normally associated with pleasure—this biological process has been shut down.  This results in a period of depression after drug addiction that can last for a month to several years.

What Causes Depression after Drug Addiction?

Depression is often a co-occurring condition with substance use disorders, sometimes the impetus that led to the addiction and sometimes the result of the addiction.  When the devastation to one’s life through a drug dependency begins to include the loss of everything one cherishes—loss of custody of children, dissolution of a marriage, loss of a job, being abandoned by friends and family—deep depression can result.  Shame and guilt for the damage caused to loved ones and personal finances rise to the surface now that there is no drug being used to help numb these emotions.

But it is the brain’s reward center itself that is no longer able to produce the natural feel-good chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) after a prolonged period of drug use, and that leads to a pervasive sense of sadness.  The ability to experience pleasure has been shut off, and life just feels flat and joyless.  The addict’s physical and mental state are depleted as a result of the addiction, and emotionally he or she may feel numb and hopeless.

Steps to Take to Alleviate Depression

During the early months of recovery getting help for the depression is imperative.  For the addict in recovery this is a vulnerable period and there is a high probability that he or she will relapse in an attempt to experience euphoria or pleasure once again.  Any symptoms of depression that persist after 30 days of sobriety should be addressed.  Some steps that will help with depression after drug addiction include:

  • Addiction specialists may introduce an antidepressant at this point.  Common medications prescribed for depression, following discharge from a treatment program, are Lexapro and Paxil.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a short-term therapy modality that helps the recovering addict recognize the connection between their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.  Identifying the triggers or thoughts that could derail recovery and replacing old behaviors and responses with new, positive ones can avoid relapse.
  • Avoid isolation. Making the effort to get out and socialize with (sober) friends and family and be physically active will help prevent further withdrawal into depression.  In addition, participating in some kind of service for others can give the newly sober person a sense of purpose.  Getting outside of your own head and helping others is very therapeutic.
  • Eat a healthy diet. A run down body goes hand in hand with a depressed spirit.  Restoring health is essential in the early phase of recovery.  Eat a diet rich in proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts.  To avoid hunger, eat six times a day (3 meals and 3 snacks) and avoid sugar.

The Treatment Specialist can help you get the help you need, whether you are ready for drug addiction treatment or have completed a treatment program but are suffering from depression.  Our compassionate treatment specialists will connect you with a rehab, mental health services, or a dual diagnosis program from our vast network of high quality addiction and recovery providers.  We have partnered with the finest treatment programs and professionals in the country and can match you with one that meets your needs and budget.  Call us today at (866) 644-7911.


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