Dysthymic Disorder and Addiction Treatment
Depression comes in many forms, from the sharp but fleeting to the deep and enduring. While many are aware of the more acute and severe forms of depression, Dysthymic Disorder often goes unrecognized, despite causing serious suffering for those afflicted and acting as a very real risk factor for drug addiction. When addiction and Dysthymia co-occur, dual diagnosis treatment is essential to reestablishing emotional and behavioral health and allowing you to create the life you want.
Into a Long Darkness
For some, depression is an intense but brief period of overwhelming emotional pain that temporarily disrupts your ability to function. For others, it is chronic, deep suffering that severely compromises your ability to live a healthy life. For people with Dysthymic Disorder, however, depression doesn’t look the way most people assume; it doesn’t meet the criteria for major depression, but nor does it abate after a short period of time. Rather, Dysthymic Disorder is experienced as periods of depression that are neither as severe nor acute as major depression and lasts for at least two years, often longer. Despite the fact that the depressive symptoms do not reach the intensity of those experienced during major depression, the chronic nature of Dysthymic Disorder makes it extraordinarily distressing, often leading to serious functional impairment and increasing the risk of both drug abuse and suicide.
The causes of Dysthymic Disorder are not fully understood, but researchers believe that multiple factors contribute to the illness. These include genetic predisposition and biological factors, environmental and behavioral factors such as chronic stress and ruminative coping strategies, and co-occurring mental health disorders. Women are significantly more likely to experience Dysthymic Disorder, although the reasons for this are not entirely clear.
Symptoms of Dysthymic Disorder
While each person’s experience of Dysthymic Disorder may be unique, diagnosis requires at least two of the following symptoms:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Low energy
- Poor concentration and/or decision-making difficulties
You must also feel depressed most of the day, on most days. For some, this depression is primarily marked by anxious distress, while for others it is characterized by melancholic, mixed, or atypical features. In some cases, psychotic features may also be present.
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Dysthymic Disorder and Addiction
Drugs are often perceived as an escape. They let you feel confident when you’re insecure, make you feel happy when you are sad, give you strength when you feel weak, let you sleep or stay awake as needed. While this can be appealing to anyone, people with Dysthymic Disorder have more reason than most to want to escape and create refuge from chronic emotional pain.
Because the symptoms of Dysthymic Disorder do not reach the severity of major depressive disorder, it may be possible that people with this condition are less likely to seek professional help and instead turn to drugs to self-medicate. Although there is no doubt that drugs can indeed temporarily make you feel good, once you come down you often feel worse than before you used, increasing your suffering and giving you ever-increasing incentive to use. Over time, addiction takes hold and you can no longer control your drug use. Worse still, the addiction itself can aggravate symptoms of Dysthymia, leaving you feeling more hopeless than ever and trapped in the vicious cycle of substance abuse.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
If you are struggling with Dysthymic Disorder, there is a broad range of treatments available that have helped countless people achieve relief from symptoms and regain the ability to function. When your Dysthymic Disorder is accompanied by drug addiction, however, treating only half of the equation is not enough; to address the full scope of your suffering, dual diagnosis treatment is necessary.
Dual diagnosis treatment is a specialized form of treatment that seeks to create meaningful interventions for both mental health disorders and drug addiction simultaneously, to remove the roots of emotional and behavioral distress once and for all. What dual diagnosis treatment looks like, however, is deeply personal, and it is imperative that your treatment plan is designed with your specific needs in mind following an in-depth psychological assessment. This ensures that your care and all therapeutic modalities are tailored to your unique situation and draw on your strengths to create a truly transformative treatment experience. The most effective therapeutic modalities for people struggling with Dysthymic Disorder and addiction include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Experiential Therapy
- Holistic Therapies
- 12-step support groups
Pharmacological therapies are also widely used to treat Dysthymic Disorder as well as any co-occurring mental health disorders. Working with a psychiatrist who is trained in addiction medicine ensures that your medication plan is safe for use and alleviates your mood symptoms with the fewest possible side effects.
Dual diagnosis treatment gives you the opportunity to participate in a process of deep exploration and self-discovery, helping you understand both your Dysthymic Disorder and your drug addiction as well as the relationship between them. By gaining personal insight and developing concrete skills to cope with stressors, you can disrupt your depression while simultaneously establishing healthy ways of addressing feelings of sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness without resorting to self-destructive activities. At the same time, you learn to identify the triggers of your substance abuse, find effective ways to cope with, and reconnect with your authentic self, free from the effects of drugs. Because family involvement is a key determinant of long-term outcomes, specialized family programming is often an essential component of the healing process.
However, your time in treatment is only the beginning of the road to recovery. As such, it is vital that your clinical team works with you to create a comprehensive plan for continuing care. This may include connecting you with outpatient physicians and therapists, stepping down to an Intensive Outpatient Program or sober living environment, and referring you to local 12-step meetings or other forms of group supports. You should leave treatment with a clear picture of what the future of your recovery looks like and with access to the resources you need to nurture your psychiatric and physical health.