Alcoholics go through a period of grieving when they give up drinking. For those dually-diagnosed with alcoholism and depression, the grief over not being able to drink is intensified. That’s usually because once people with co-occurring disorders stop drinking, all the feelings that have been medicated over the years by alcohol start to surface. This can cause them to go through very real, profound agony.
Those diagnosed with depressive disorder and alcoholism also may find it more difficult to attend 12-step programs, perceiving (rightly or wrongly) that people in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and the like just don’t “get” what they are going through. For people who want to try a 12-step program, there are groups specifically designed for those struggling with both issues. One well-known group is a variation of AA called “Double Trouble in Recovery.” It does really help to have the support of people who can relate to what you are going through.
While alcoholics may find it hard to get through social occasions without a drink, those alcoholics with a depressive disorder may find it even harder. If you are depressed, a happy occasion like a birthday or a holiday can trigger thoughts and feelings that precipitate thoughts such as: “Everyone else is happy, what is wrong with me that I can’t be happy on special days?” Therefore, feeling bad about being depressed itself can be a trigger for a drink—and create additional anxiety about whether recovery is really possible.
So, is it harder for people with both depression and an addiction — especially an addiction that can masquerade as “socially acceptable” in some circumstances. such as drinking –to beat an addiction? The short answer is: Yes. The long answer is: Not necessarily.
In part, that’s because someone who is accurately diagnosed with depression can be prescribed medications which will stabilize their depressive symptoms. Also, like others with alcoholism they can be prescribed anti-craving medications, as well. For people who do not want to take medications, their recovery generally will be more difficult.
In either case, the following tips will help those suffering from depression in their recovery from alcoholism as well:
- Build a solid, social-sober support network, and try to include people who also suffer from depressive disorders and are in recovery.
- Avoid people, places, and things that trigger cravings and urges or that you find triggers depressive symptoms. However, if you have holidays or birthdays or weddings or other special events that you want to attend but that might trigger cravings for alcohol or make you feel down, bring someone from your support network with you. Also, have a specific purpose and a time limit in mind when you attend. For example, go with the plan that you are going to greet the people at the event, congratulate them, and then begin to say your farewells after thirty minutes and commit to being out the door after 45 minutes. If it is a family dinner, like Thanksgiving, that triggers your depressive symptoms or cravings for alcohol, you might not be able to go to these, at least while your recovery is still in the early phases. Or, just show up for dessert.
- You are responsible for your own sober recovery as well as taking care of your own depression. You can’t expect the world to change around you. Others will not stop drinking — nor are they required to. They will not stop asking you to do things that may not be good for you. So ask your therapist to help you work on refusal skills — that is, the ability to say “no.”
- For people with depression, who tend to withdraw from their friends and families anyway, it may be harder to make new, sober friends. Start with friends from your support groups and then go from there.
- If you are taking medications for alcoholism, depression or both, be sure to report any unusual symptoms to your doctor immediately. If they are severe, go to the nearest emergency room. Also, advocate for yourself. If you are concerned about symptoms or the longer-term effects of your medication, read up on the pharmaceutical company’s web site. Make sure your doctor is giving you the requisite blood tests (if recommended), and is monitoring your response and reaction to the medication as advised by the drug’s producers.