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Managing Depression (and Depression Meds) Sober

Getting sober is one of the hardest – and most courageous – things an alcoholic or addict will ever do in their lifetime…especially for those who struggle with dual diagnosis.

The term “dual diagnosis” is used when someone has a mood disorder (such as depression) and a problem with alcohol or drugs. You have two completely separate illnesses, both of which require their own unique treatment plans.

Depression in the Absence of Drugs

Once we put the drink down or get rid of the drugs, we start to remember why we picked them up in the first place.

The first year of sobriety is all about the basics; staying away from the first drink or drug and learning to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that we suppressed since that first drunk or high. And for those of us who struggle with depression, this is also an opportunity to learn how we can therapeutically cope with the disorder instead of using substances as a crutch.

365 Days Later

Once the fog has lifted and we physically dry out and clear our heads, it’s much easier to truly begin assessing our underlying personal issues. Depression, if left untreated, can stunt and often cripple your new-found sobriety.

Here are a few tips for navigating depression when we no longer self-medicate.

  • Get help! If you are experiencing symptoms of depression for longer than a week, make an appointment with a psychiatrist. According to experts at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, shorter bouts of depression during the first three years of sobriety that last anywhere from 1-5 days is not defined as clinical depression, but rather cravings from long-term withdrawal that lessen over time.
  • Don’t give in! The physical mental and emotional symptoms of clinical depression can be so overwhelming causing its victim to feel powerless and give up, so get out of the house. Being around other people, going to a museum or sitting down for a movie can help to quiet that voice in your head that wants to make you believe its lies. Exercise and sticking to a schedule can also save you from falling further down the rabbit hole.
  • Talk about it. The worst thing for an alcoholic or addict is to keep secrets. The more you talk the less power depression has in your mind. Remember you’re batting two issues and they can feed off each other, so don’t let them!

Opinions: Everybody has One

Talking openly about your own journey with dual diagnosis is a vital component to the recovery process, but you have to be very careful when it comes to following the advice of others.

There are plenty of opinions about the way depression and addiction should – and could – be handled. What’s more, there are varying expert opinions in both the sober and medical treatment communities. Some will say if you take any kind of medication, you’re not really sober. But those voices usually come from people who neither have nor understand the complexities of a dual diagnosis.

When it’s all said and done, the way you tackle your own clinical depression is a decision should be made with the help of your doctors. Casual advice from well-meaning friends and family members has its place, but when it comes to your mental health, put your trust in the experts.

Here are some helpful hints to remember when deciding your own treatment path:

  • Be patient with your medications. SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) are the most popular class of antidepressants out there today and they are non-narcotic and therefor the safest for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts to take.
  • Find an expert. That can include a doctor or psychiatrist who specializes or at least has experience treating duel diagnosis patients. Placing your health in the care of someone who understands addiction is vital. For those newly sober tend to be more sensitive to medications.
  • Give it Time. Going on an antidepressant is a big adjustment. It can take weeks to reach your coasting dose.  And feeling the effects of your new medication can be reminiscent of your old party drug days. Again, talk about everything and anything going on with you during this time. Talking to another sober person with experience combined with an addiction specialist who knows your case is a winning combination.

Additional Reading: Recovery and Getting Your Natural Happy Back