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How to Help Someone With Depression and Addiction

Addiction and depression are two of the most common mental health illnesses. By themselves, each disorder is a recurring and often serious illness, and both involve changes in a person’s thinking, mood, and behaviors. Both diseases may be formally diagnosed by an appropriate medical professional. When severe, both can result in suicide or death.

If you believe that someone is showing warning signs of depression, addiction, or suicide, contact an emergency medical professional to get help now.

But it’s not all doom and gloom (even when it feels like it is). Both depression and addiction are treatable. Many who suffer from one or both do recover and go on to live joyful lives.

In this article, we’ll briefly describe depression and addiction, and look at 3 ways you can help someone who is suffering from both.


“It feels like there’s a dark cloud over me, following me everywhere I go.”

“I know what I need to do, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.”

“What is depression like? It’s like drowning, except everyone around you is breathing.”

These are just a few quotes of millions that attempt to describe what living with depression feels like. Depression may not show any outward symptoms, and it can be exceptionally debilitating because depression doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. Regardless of your ethnicity, race, religion, gender or sexuality, depression is a real illness.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, with more than 300 million people suffering from depression. There are many different forms of depression, and they can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. When one experiences repeated depressive episodes, this is called Recurrent Depressive Disorder. Among others, bipolar affective disorder is another common form of depression that involves sharp mood swings.

Drug Addiction

More professionally known as substance use disorder, addiction occurs when someone takes drugs (whether they’re legal or not) in a harmful way. They can’t stop even when it creates negative social, personal, and health outcomes.

Addiction can occur if someone drinks too much, and either can’t stop or refuses to quit. Someone who uses prescription pain killers to feel high and begins using differently than they were prescribed can also be suffering from addiction. As of 2017, more than 19 million U.S. adults had a Substance Use Disorder.

According to SAMHSA, there are 7 criteria for addiction:

  1. Spent a lot of time engaging in activities related to the use of alcohol or drugs
  2. Used alcohol or drugs in greater quantities or for a longer time than intended
  3. Developed tolerance to alcohol or drugs
  4. Made unsuccessful attempts to cut down on the use of alcohol or drugs
  5. Continued to use alcohol or drugs despite physical health or emotional problems associated with use
  6. Reduced or eliminated participation in other activities because of use of alcohol or drugs
  7. Experienced withdrawal symptoms when someone cuts back or stopped using alcohol or drugs

It is important to note that only one of these criteria may be present for someone to be addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.

Tips for Helping Someone With Depression and Addiction

When addiction and depression occur at the same time, it is referred to as a co-occurring disorder (or a dual diagnosis).

If a loved one, friend, or coworker is struggling with depression, there are a few things you can do to help. The most important thing you can do is be supportive and communicate that depression and addiction are serious, treatable illnesses.

1.    Express Empathy

  • This can be easier said than done, especially if someone’s mental illnesses are having negative consequences in others’ lives. It is difficult to know exactly how someone else feels, but trying to understand and see the world from their perspective can increase trust. With trust, people become more open to advise and seeking treatment.

2.    Be honest, but not brutal

  • Giving false reassurance might only enable an addict to continue using. Suggesting that someone simply needs “to cheer up” is infuriating if you’ve experienced depression. Instead, take an objective view, listen to what they’re saying, and give honest with compassion.

3.    Provide Solutions

  • Both depression and addiction can be very isolating conditions. He or she most likely will have stopped doing activities that they previously enjoyed, pull away from friends and family, and become non-communicative. When someone does reach out for help, it is critical to be ready with solutions and resources towards treatment.

Boardwalk Recovery Center specializes in the treatment and recovery of co-occurring disorders. If you are concerned about someone who may be suffering from addiction and other mental illnesses, we are always available to talk and provide additional support and resources.

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