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How to Handle Depression after Rehab


March 14, 2018

Mental illnesses like depression are frequently diagnosed alongside addictions, and for many people, it is difficult to untangle cause from effect. The question of which came first may not matter that much, however, because both depression and addiction are diseases that require targeted, long-term treatment. 

Many people without co-occurring depression develop depressed feelings in the weeks immediately following completion of addiction treatment. It can put them at greater risk of relapse, so it is important to have a plan in place that is ready to go for people who find themselves in this situation. 

Your Brain When You Stop Self-Medicating

Addiction hijacks the brain’s “reward” system, and when you detox and go through rehab, you are specifically ridding your life of the maladaptive self-medication on which you came to depend. It can be incredibly difficult at times. Furthermore, the longer you self-medicated with alcohol or other drugs, the harder it is for your brain’s reward system to start working properly again.

It is no mystery why the time immediately following completion of rehab can be plagued by depressed moods. In some cases, those depressed moods develop into full-blown clinical depression. The good news is, there are far more safe and effective treatments for depression than there once were. 

Effects of Depression on Addiction Recovery

Depression during addiction recovery can impact your life in countless ways. You may feel too tired or unmotivated to provide yourself with the self-care you desperately need. You may have a harder time going to 12-step meetings or attending to normal, everyday responsibilities. 

In these situations, you put yourself at greater risk of relapse, so it is important that you recognize what is going on and take responsibility for putting your addiction recovery back on track. There are many practical steps you can take to do this. 

Use Your Support Network, Particularly During the First 30 Days

Your support network, including your 12-step sponsor if you have one, is there to help you get through this vulnerable period, so reach out to them. As hard as it may seem to get yourself up and out of the house to a meeting, you should do so. At the very least, you should find an online meeting to attend. 

Addiction recovery

If you have been prescribed medication, take it exactly as directed. Avoid isolating yourself, but also avoid known triggers. That can be a difficult and fine line to tread, but it can make a tremendous difference. Finally, practice self-care to the best of your ability by eating healthy foods on a regular basis, getting sufficient sleep, taking care of basic hygiene, and keeping to healthy routines of daily living as much as possible.

Be Open to Medical Treatment for Depression

If you are a couple of weeks beyond your graduation from rehab and depressive symptoms are not getting better, or are getting worse, talk to your treatment team or your doctor about your situation. Treatment for clinical depression is far better than it used to be, and you can be reassured by the fact that many of the most commonly used medications for depression are effective and non-addicting. 

You should also be aware that medications for depression may take a couple of weeks to start working, so do not feel like you have “failed” if your meds do not seem to be working after only a few days. However, if they do not seem to be working after a couple of weeks, definitely bring it to your doctor’s attention. 

Depression treatment can be tricky in that a medication that works wonderfully for one person may not work at all for another, and vice versa. Sometimes it takes a while to get the right medication at the right dosage, but do not give up.

Depression during addiction recovery is not uncommon. In many cases, it resolves on its own as the brain regains its ability to function normally. Sometimes depression does not go away, however, and if this happens, you should seek medical treatment. Depression is not a character defect or lack of willpower but is a distinct medical condition that can be successfully treated. 

If you have made it through treatment to long-term addiction recovery, you are strong and have done something not everyone can do. Do not allow depression to undo all your hard work because depression can be treated successfully. If you have questions about addiction recovery, we encourage you to contact us today.

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