Your Ultimate Guide to Working Through Depression and Addiction Recovery Simultaneously

What Does It Mean?

When two disorders occur at the same time, it is called comorbidity, dual diagnosis or also co-occurring disorders. Each person’s experience with mental disorders and/or substance use disorders (SUDs) are different, which means that sometimes, one could occur before the other; on the other hand, one could exacerbate symptoms of another. It becomes tricky to safely manage both at the same time, which is why having a healthcare team could be the safest option for moving forward in recovery. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it’s not all that uncommon for a person to experience both a mental disorder, such as depression and an addiction, such as alcoholism, at the same time. In fact, previous research tells us that those with mood or anxiety disorders are twice as likely to abuse substances as well – why is this?

Masking the Symptoms with Substances: Self-Medication

When we’re caught in the whirlwind of life and symptoms of a mental illness arise, it makes sense that we’d do anything to make those symptoms go away. Just like most people don’t enjoy rushing to the doctor, however, many people try to “treat” their mental illness with something else – often substances – to mask the symptoms so they don’t cause as much distress. For example, a person who has social anxiety may begin feeling very nervous about meeting up with friends; by drinking alcohol often, they may feel that pressure to “fit in” or that overall nervousness fade away.

In fact, a 2016 study published by a researcher from Yale University found that many people choose alcohol or marijuana to self-medicate because they feel those are the least addictive substances to use; furthermore, they tend to feel as though they have more control over their substance use, and the effects are found more favorable as well. The problem with this, however, is that the brain is wired to feel good. We have a chemical in our brain called dopamine, and whenever something releases this chemical (such as food, sex, drugs, shopping, gambling, etc.), that memory gets stored as a pleasant one. It seems harmless at the time, but our brain remembers that moment and may recall it again – and that’s when the cycle of dependence and addiction begin.

Managing Both at Once: Tips for Recovery

Recovery is a courageous endeavor and one that could change your life for the better. There’s no one “right way” to recover, so you truly have to find what works best for you. For many people, however, recovery should include a strict schedule. Depression and substance dependence each tend to have their own competing schedules, but you are not your disorders – and you need to create a routine that continues no matter which disorder decides to butt in.


The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can greatly help with both disorders. This type of therapy approach helps us to identify old, negative thought patterns, while giving us insight into how much importance we’re placing on those thoughts and if we really need to be giving them much importance considering the effect it’s having on our happiness and health. With CBT, we’re given the tools to identify which thoughts we’d like to place emphasis on – which ones will be most beneficial to us.


Depression really manifests itself through low energy, irritability, sadness and hopelessness, isolation and more. On top of that, substance abuse can cause us to eat less (or eat more unhealthy foods), sleep less, exercise less and damage some of the vital organs that are used to absorb what nutrients we do obtain from our daily diet. Depression festers in its own way, which can even include difficulty with hygiene. Combine these effects with detoxification/addiction recovery and you may experience an aftermath that’s pretty uncomfortable – exercise and nutrition are what should be used to help counteract this.

In an article titled, “The Role of Nutrition in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Addiction”, several key suggestions for nutrition were made:

  • Grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Tofu, kale and other foods rich in calcium (including dairy products)
  • Meat, fish or tofu for protein
  • Good fatty oils such as canola, olive, flaxseed


Despite the way depression or detox make be causing you to feel, you need to surround yourself with love, positivity, support and hope. Research has shown us time and time again that these elements bring back our livelihood – they connect us to something bigger than ourselves. They help us find our bigger purpose in life and in doing so, can help us move forward from some of the emotional wounds we’ve developed over the years. Mahatma Gandhi expressed this very notion when he once stated, “We cannot, in a moment, get rid of habits of a lifetime.”

The emotional walls we’ve put up, the way we’ve closed ourselves in, the opportunities we’ve passed, the loved ones we’ve hurt and the substances we’ve relied on can only be healed by choosing to move forward and spirituality can help us understand just how little control we have over the world. By connecting with God, or a Higher Power, we can find strength in knowing that we’re exactly where we need to be – one step at a time.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.

Call us today at 1-800-646-9998 to take the next step towards your happiness and health.