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AddictionAddiction TreatmentConcurrent Disorders

Concurrent Disorders- Depression & Addiction

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Addiction is usually linked to underlying mental health disorders. This is why addiction treatment should follow a concurrent disorders treatment protocol. This means taking a holistic approach to treatment, addressing the mental health issues underlying addiction rather than treating it in isolation.

Mental Health and Addiction

Mental health disorders are highly prevalent in Canadian society. An estimated 50% of Canadians will experience some form of mental illness by the time they are forty years old. Research has also established the strength of the connection between mental health disorders and addiction. An estimated minimum of 20% of people coping with mental illness have a co-occurring substance abuse problem.

Many people coping with mental health conditions such as depression turn to addictive substances in order to manage their symptoms. If the underlying metal health issues are not identified and addressed, an individual will be unable to develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace self-medication. Evidence-based addiction treatment methods such as individual therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and group counselling have proven effective in treating addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Symptoms and Effects of Depression

There are many common symptoms and effects associated with depression. These symptoms will vary depending on the individual. Some of the most common indicators of depression include:

  • Feelings of despair, intense guilt or fear
  • Feelings of intense sadness, worthlessness or emptiness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in activities
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anger or irritability
  • Insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite or substantial weight change
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Physical aches and pains without an obvious medical cause

Someone experiencing these symptoms should monitor them carefully and speak to a treatment professional. While it can be difficult to discuss the symptoms of depression, seeking help from someone who understands the condition is the first step towards managing the condition.

Risk Factors

Some people experience depression throughout their lives. Others experience it during specific periods of their life. It is often impossible to identify the specific causes of depression or a depressive episode. However, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) lists the following as common risk factors for depression:

  • Adverse or traumatic childhood experiences
  • First-degree family members with depressive disorders
  • Chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease
  • A series of stressful life events and changes

While these are common risk factors, someone who has experienced any of the factors described will not necessarily develop depression. An individual may also develop depression without experiencing any of the listed risk factors. However, they are useful to consider when assessing whether you or someone close to you is experiencing depression.


Many people coping with depression become dependent on addictive substances. They do this in order to alleviate or repress the psychological, emotional and physical effects of the condition. An individual might self-medicate with any mood-altering substance from alcohol or marijuana to opiate substances such as heroin or Oxycontin. While these substances may ease the symptoms of depression, at least initially, self-medication is a highly addictive and dangerous pattern. Evidence-based treatment allows client to replace these unhealthy mechanisms with progressive, truly effective ones.

There are a number of risk factors that may function alongside mental health disorders to cause addiction. The DMS-5 lists the following as risk factors for addiction:

  • Family members with a history of substance use
  • High levels of stress
  • History of poor coping skills
  • Poverty/financial distress
  • Early aggressive behaviour
  • Lack of parental supervision and involvement

While none of these risk factors mean that an individual will necessarily develop an addiction, they may function alongside mental health disorders to cause or exacerbate addiction.


If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be addicted, there are a number of indicators to consider. Does the person in question experience cravings to drink or use substances? This is a strong indicator of an unhealthy dependence. An addicted person will also usually find that they use drugs or alcohol more often, for longer periods or in larger quantities than they had intended. They will also likely find that their tolerance increases over time, meaning they will need to use larger quantities of substances in order to achieve the desired effect.

They may find that much of their time is spent using, obtaining or recovering from using. Related to this, it is likely that their drinking or drug use interferes with their life at home, work or school. It is likely that this behaviour also causes problems in personal relationships.

Continuing to use despite the kind of results discussed above is a strong sign of addiction. Failed attempts to reduce or end use is also a common sign of addiction. Using substances in situations where it is dangerous to do so, such as when driving or supervising children, is another strong indicator.

If you identify any of these indicators in yourself or someone close to you, you or they may be addicted. While this is a distressing truth to accept, doing so is the first step towards recovery. Professional help is available to support you or a loved one and help them to restore order to their lives.


Treatment for addiction related to co-occurring depression should be treated in accordance with a concurrent disorders model. This means treating addiction alongside mental health issues. Treatment should also use only evidence-based methods. Methods such as dialectical behavioural therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and group counselling have all proven effective in treating mental health disorders and co-occurring addiction. They allow the client to identify the underlying causes and consequences of their addiction. They can then work alongside clinical staff to develop healthy coping mechanisms to replace self-medication.

These methods should also be tailored to the specific treatment requirements of the individual. Trafalgar provides its clients with thorough psychological evaluations in order to identify their requirements and establish the most effective treatment plan possible.

Certain medications can also be effective in treating mental health disorders, but research has demonstrated that medication is more effective when an individual also takes part in treatment such as therapy and counselling. Other methods which can be incorporated into an sustainable routine also support recovery from addiction. These include exercise, time spent outdoors and goal-setting. Good treatment providers also support their clients beyond structured treatment through comprehensive aftercare programs. Trafalgar offers this continued support through our Aftercare, ContinUCare and Continuation of Care programs.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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