People who make the choice to quit abusing substances may feel hesitant to be put on any type of medication. Part of recovery is making the decision to avoid any type of “mind-altering” substance that changes your mood and affects your emotional state. Medication like antidepressants can seem like a grey area because they are provided by a psychologist but they also are taken to alter your mood, something that sober people make great efforts to avoid.
For many people in the recovery community, antidepressants and other types of medication still carry a stigma with them. Sober people may see antidepressants as just another chemical meant to provide you with an escape from your natural emotional state. Some members of 12 step groups may feel that medication of any kind is detrimental to reaching full recovery.
The prevailing attitude that medication is dangerous can be accurate for many types of prescription drugs such opioids or sleeping medications which can be habit forming and cause addiction. However, although antidepressants do act as a mood altering drug they are rarely abused and typically don’t lead to addiction. These kinds of pills can actually be life-saving for people that struggle with severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Coping with a Dual Diagnosis
The idea that people should avoid antidepressants because they are in recovery is misleading and can be dangerous for someone that has been given a dual diagnosis. Someone who has been self-medicating their depression or anxiety with alcohol or other drugs with find it especially difficult to become sober. The symptoms of their mental illness are likely to intensify to an overwhelming point once they take away their substance abuse.
Some people in the recovery community may not realize that there is a difference between the type of sadness and emptiness that a person generally feels when quitting an addiction and the experience of someone with a legitimate mental illness. Someone with suicidal thoughts or a person who has attempted suicide in the past may need extra help to get through their recovery. A history of mental illness can make quitting an addiction very painful and may require specialized support and care.
If someone is diagnosed with a mental illness like depression or anxiety when they decide to quit their addiction, they will benefit most from a dual diagnosis facility for their treatment. Dual diagnosis programs treat both issues simultaneously and can provide the right kind of medication to improve mental health symptoms. Patients given medication can be monitored to see how they react to antidepressants and whether they should be used short term or long term.
Antidepressants vs. Other Medications
The stigma surrounding antidepressants in some parts of the recovery community may be founded on a misunderstanding of the way the medication works. Prescription pills like opioids or benzodiazepines are the types of medications that should be avoided in recovery because they have addictive properties. With those addictive drugs, users feel the effects very soon after taking it and can experience a sense of euphoria followed by the feeling of “coming down” when the effects wear off.
On the other hand, antidepressants can alter the mood but the effects of the medication take weeks or even months to start working. This type of medication does not offer an immediate “high”, in fact users rarely if ever feel the kind of euphoria that one would experience with opioids. Instead they feel more emotionally stable without the extreme highs and lows that usually go along with drug use.
In many cases, antidepressants are helpful to temporarily cushion the blow of getting off drugs or alcohol for people with a dual diagnosis. Patients do not necessarily have to continue taking antidepressants indefinitely and it is their choice whether they want to use them to help their situation. Some may prefer not to use the medication and simply rely on traditional types of therapy to improve their symptoms.
It is important to realize that people in recovery need to at least have the option to take antidepressants to help them get back on their feet especially if they have a mental illness. The medication may be a type of mood altering substance but it works very differently than addictive medication and is rarely abused. People in recovery should feel secure and safe about taking pills for the benefit of their mental health.
Whether a person decides to use medication or not, it is always important that they spend plenty of time in individual and group therapy to combat their depression and their issues with addiction. Therapy is the place where many of these problems are resolved and patients can eventually wean themselves off of antidepressants. No matter what the situation, it is important to reserve judgement if someone needs medication in their recovery and try to reduce the stigma surrounding antidepressants.