Depression frequently co-occurs with substance use disorder in an endless cycle. If you’re suffering from addiction, perhaps you turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with depression, feelings of sadness, stress, or other life challenges. When those unhealthy coping mechanisms are removed during recovery, depression can reappear or worsen and may increase the risk of relapse.

Among the general population, depression is common. The National Institutes of Health reported that in the United States alone, about 21 million adults experienced at least one major depressive episode in the year 2020. Standard treatment modalities for depression include psychotherapy and prescription medication. 

If you suspect you may be struggling with depression in recovery from substance use disorder, talk to your doctor about treatment options. In addition to working with a professional on managing your mental health in recovery, there are a number of natural remedies to combat feelings of sadness, loneliness, and depression.

In this article, we’ll get into the reasons why those in recovery from addiction are susceptible to depression. Additionally, we’ll share a list of lifestyle changes that, in combination with professional treatment, can help you cope with depression during recovery from substance use disorder.

Depression and substance use disorder recovery

Depression can have serious implications for your physical and emotional health. Signs and symptoms of depression include: 

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or “empty”
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies and activities
  • Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Brain fog or memory issues
  • Fatigue
  • Weakened immune system
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or suicide attempts

Not everyone with depression experiences every symptom. In general, factors that put individuals at risk of developing depression include:

  • Personal or family history of depression
  • Major life changes, trauma, or stress
  • Certain physical illnesses and medications

As the initial stages of recovery can be especially stressful and involve major life changes, individuals recovering from substance use disorder are at high risk of depression. In turn, depression can make sobriety more difficult to maintain. 

In many cases, sobriety forces you to face trauma, emotions or problems you may have initially turned to substances to avoid and adopt new, healthy coping tools instead.

Tips for coping with depression in recovery

1. Adjust your diet

Physical health directly influences your mental health. Your body, brain and heart require a variety of nutrients in order to function properly. A balanced, nutritious diet is crucial during recovery from substance use disorder to prevent depression and increase overall well-being.

When grocery shopping, focus primarily on shopping along the perimeter walls of the grocery store (meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables), instead of the aisles (packaged processed foods).

2. Spend time outdoors

Studies have suggested that moderate exposure to sunlight can have many benefits, from strengthening your immune system to regulating your mood, weight and sleep to increasing levels of vitamin D. 

3. Practice self-care

Self-care means attending to your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needsespecially when you don’t want to. This will look different depending on your own unique needs. Examples of self-care activities include exercising, meditating and spending time with your friends.

4. Mind your music

When you’re struggling with depression, listening to melancholic music typically does more harm than good. Take an honest inventory of your music and ask yourself if your choice of music is helping you channel your emotions in a healthy way, or contributing to your low mood.

5. Prioritize sleep

Not sleeping enough can worsen depression—but so can sleeping too much. Establishing a healthy sleep routine takes time and practice, but the mental and physical health benefits are well worth it. Healthy sleep can boost your immune system, aid in weight loss and promote better overall well-being.

6. Find community

The lifestyle changes required to commit to recovery might leave you feeling isolated. Surrounding yourself with healthy, positive, like-minded peers is an important part of the process, especially when you’re struggling with depression. This might mean joining a support group, church or a hobby club.

In conjunction with therapy, medication and support from a qualified treatment team, following these practices can help you to manage depressive symptoms and achieve positive outcomes in recovery from substance use disorder. 

Contact us for additional resources

Here at Real Recovery, we have compiled a team of compassionate, expert counselors and physicians who specialize in treating depression during recovery from substance use disorder.

We offer many different treatment options to help you manage your depression, all of which are customizable for your utmost success in recovery. We believe in treating the whole person, not just their symptoms, so our programs are typically a combination of individual counseling, behavioral therapy, outdoor activities and occasionally medication.

To learn more about how we can help you overcome depression, give us a call at 855-363-7325.