Among those who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, there is a very high rate of co-occurring mental health disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Whether the heavy use of drugs and alcohol contributes to the development of these disorders or the mental health issue triggers the urge to drink or get high varies from person to person, but it is exceedingly common for those who are in search of treatment for addiction to also need treatment for co-occurring mental health issues.
Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues among Americans. In fact, it is estimated that about one out of every 20 Americans over the age of 12 is struggling with mild, moderate, or severe depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news is that there are a number of different types of therapeutic interventions that can be hugely impactful when it comes to treating both of these disorders. Mindfulness therapy has recently been identified as a research-based therapy for depression treatment in addition to being a positive treatment for addiction disorders.
Treatment for Co-occurring Disorders
When both depression and a substance use disorder are identified, it is imperative that the person not only seeks drug and alcohol abuse treatment but also embarks on a treatment program for the depression disorder.
For everyone, the details of their experience with both addiction and depression can vary significantly. One person may struggle with mild depression that is worsened by drinking or drug use, while someone else may be living with severe episodic depression that triggers heroin and painkiller binges. Depending on that experience, the details of treatment should therefore vary widely as well. There is a range of incredibly effective treatment and therapy options that can not only positively impact the ability to stay sober but also improve the ability to manage depression symptoms. This makes treatment for co-occurring disorders hugely efficient and effective, making sure that you get the most progress and growth from your time and financial investment in recovery.
According to a review of nine studies recently published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the use of mindfulness therapy in the treatment of clients struggling with serious bouts of depression may help to reduce the frequency and intensity of depression episodes.
Dr. Ami Baxi is a psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital. She is not connected to the study but is familiar with mindfulness therapy. She says: “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy enhances awareness of thoughts and emotions being experienced, and enables development of skills to better cope with them.”
Not only was mindfulness therapy found to be effective in the long-term management of symptoms of depression across a large population of participants, but researchers believe it may be an even stronger method of therapy as compared to other methods that are frequently included in depression treatment.
Richard Davidson with the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted that it is interesting that mindfulness therapy has been found to be so effective in the treatment of depression because it was not a therapy originally created in response to depression or tailored specifically to meet the needs of clients in recovery from depression. He says: “Mindfulness practices were not originally developed as therapeutic treatments. They emerged originally in contemplative traditions for the purposes of cultivating wellbeing and virtue. The questions of whether and how they might be helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression and other related psychopathologies are quite new, and the evidence base is in its embryonic stage.”
Early stages or not, many therapists are already incorporating mindfulness practices into their treatment of their clients for depression as well as other mental health symptoms with excellent results. With the goal of helping clients to increase awareness of their emotional state, thought processes, and responses to themselves as well as the world and people around them, mindfulness also provides coping mechanisms to help clients key into problem areas and create tailored and unique coping mechanisms that will help them address deficiencies or stressors in a healthy manner.
Are you interested in increasing your level of awareness – or mindfulness – in daily life? It is a great way to augment your recovery even if you do not immediately have access to an intensive mindfulness therapy. Some tips include:
- Talk to your therapist about mindfulness, what it means in general and what it can mean for you.
- Practice breath awareness. This means just being still and noticing how your breath fills your lungs and then leaves the lungs. This can serve to slow you down and calm you all on its own, which in turn can increase your ability to handle stressors, including uncomfortable feelings or the urge to drink or get high.
- Practice breath control. Once you are comfortable with noticing your breath, practice lengthening your breaths in and out. Visualize filling up your lungs from the bottom to the top and emptying them in the reverse. Lengthen your breaths both in and out for six counts and then eight or more, fully emptying your lungs, and then repeat for a few breaths.
- When someone is talking to you, listen carefully to what they are saying and pay attention to how they are saying it – without judgment. Do not worry about what they are thinking of you or what you will say next. Do not size them up or judge what they are saying as positive or negative. Instead, just listen. When it is your turn to speak, take a moment to consider your response before moving ahead.
How can a mindfulness practice benefit your life?