According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9 million people both have a mental health issue and abuse drugs. Anxiety and depression are thus very strongly linked with abuse of drugs, presenting people in recovery with the challenge of treating two very different, overpowering conditions that both have to be dealt with in the recovery process.
The non-medical use of opiate drugs is a rapidly growing problem creating new addicts every year, becoming the second most abused illegal drug after marijuana according a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This inappropriate use of prescription painkillers itself has especially strong links to anxiety and depression.
A 2011 study lead by Dr. Silvia Martins, and other doctors and researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that there is a strong "bidirectional pathway," between opioid drug abuse and severe anxiety and depression. In other words, that the two conditions cause, contribute to, and intensify each other, and it's difficult to say which one causes the other.
Understanding this link can help us understand how to better pursue a treatment plan that takes both conditions into account, healing a person holistically.
People with mood disorders look to the high as relief from the suffering
People with depression or anxiety often have a hard time coping. The internal pain becomes too much to deal with. You may feel like a drowning person, desperate to reach out for anything that might save your life or make things bearable.
In that state, drugs can seem like a welcome relief, a way to tune out the noise in your head and feel like you can relax and live what feels like a normal life. This very common response is called "self-medicating," and is a very understandable response.
However, what feels like relief in the moment is actually hindering you from dealing with the deeper causes of your depression and anxiety. By using a chemical high to get rid of your feelings, you are making it harder to actually peruse psychological healing that would give you ultimate relief.
Opiates make depression and anxiety worse
While being under the high induced by opiates may temporarily stave off feelings of depression and anxiety, in the long run they can worsen the symptoms of these mood disorders and sometimes cause them to flare up in someone vulnerable to them. Opiate addiction can bring on symptoms of dramatic mood swings, depression, and anxiety, as well as physical symptoms such as exhaustion, sedation, hallucinations, and paranoia.
Over time, your normally functioning brain and it's coping mechanisms can become repressed under a drug and addiction fueled haze, making it more difficult to cope with your depression. Thus, it is very common for someone using opiates to self-medicate can end up in a very dangerous and ineffective cycle, taking drugs to cope with a depression that only ends up getting worse.
Treatment for both at the same time
The hopeful news is that just as both sides of a dual diagnosis can worsen each other, starting a process of recovery from one help to relieve the other. Simply treating one without the other will not produce a full recovery, so it's important to look for a treatment plan that takes both into consideration.
When seeking treatment, it is important to be open about both your addiction and your struggles with a mood disorder. They are deeply interrelated, and need to be treated together. Slowly, you will find relief. The first step is loving yourself enough to seek help.